Montana Boy, 12, Is Found Dead in Home, and Police Say Grandparents and Uncle 'Tortured' Him

Harriet Sokmensuer

A Montana boy is dead and his grandparents and teen uncle face charges after they were allegedly caught on camera torturing him.

On Wednesday, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office arrested James Sasser Jr., Patricia Batts and a juvenile male following the death of 12-year-old James Alex Hurley, according to a sheriff’s news release obtained by PEOPLE. The juvenile male was identified as James’s uncle.

All three have been charged with deliberate homicide after James was found dead on Feb. 3 of blunt force trauma to the back of his head.

James had been living with his grandparents and their children, including their 14-year-old son who was James’ uncle, for two years. But police allege he endured severe abuse.

According to a probable cause affidavit, video footage obtained by police during their investigation showed the family torturing James before his death, WGNTV and KBZK report.

Bjorn Boyer, Deputy County Attorney with the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office, told KTVH-TV that “systematic torture and beatings” led to James’ death.

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On Feb. 3, deputies responded to the family’s West Yellowstone home after the family reported the boy’s death. Upon arrival, deputies found James to have multiple wounds and contusions all over his body, prompting them to contact homicide detectives.

At the time of James’s death, he “appeared to be emaciated” while video footage from two years prior showed him as a “healthy and well fed boy,” the court documents state.

James weighed 103 lbs and stood 5 feet 3 inches tall, investigators noted in the documents.

The family is accused of withholding food from the boy and forcing him to do exercises like jumping jacks and squats. All of this was allegedly recorded by the family on video.

In interviews with police, James’ family told investigators the boy and his uncle often fought.

Batts allegedly told investigators on Feb. 2, during the Super Bowl, she was asleep but awoke to find James allegedly being hit by his uncle with a paddle during an altercation.

Sasser allegedly told investigators that he was also asleep that night but learned of James’ death the next morning when Batts called him while he was on his way to work.

Since the trio’s arrest, authorities have arrested a second teen, Gage Roush, 18, on allegations he assaulted James. A toxicology report is pending for James’ autopsy.

Attorney information for the defendants was not available Monday and it wasn’t clear if any had entered pleas to the charges against them.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to http://www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.