BOZEMAN — Audrey Cromwell, Gallatin County Attorney, filed a Withdrawal of Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in the Patricia Batts case. See the full filing here [gallatinmedia.org].
Batts is charged with deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment and strangulation of partner or family member, all felonies, related to the death of her 12-year-old grandson, James Alex Hurley, in West Yellowstone in 2020.
“After consultation with law enforcement, with the victim’s mother, and with the Attorney General Prosecution Services Bureau, we have decided the best way to proceed in this case is to withdraw the death penalty designation. The victim’s mother is in agreement with this decision,” Cromwell said.
“My heart goes out to Alex’s mom and brother. As a parent, I cannot think of anything worse in life than losing your child in the manner inflicted on Alex. There’s nothing worse that could have happened to him. It is critical that we move this case forward to seek justice for Alex in a way that will put an end to this years-long litigation and will provide closure to the family and law enforcement,” Cromwell said.
Montana is one of 24 states that allows capital punishment — 23 states have abolished the death penalty and three others have a governor-imposed moratorium on death as punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last execution in Montana happened in 2006 and two people are now on death row in the state, according to DPIC. However, a 2015 injunction by District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock has put a moratorium on executions in Montana indefinitely.
The average death penalty case takes 12 years, including appeals for post-conviction relief. The costs of these highly litigious cases – including the time of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and court reporters, and the high costs of briefs – are mostly borne by the taxpayer. Death penalty cases in Montana cost taxpayers approximately $2.2 million per case.
“Death penalty factors increase the time and cost of administering justice. We can secure justice for Alex through a sentence that includes life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. And the millions in taxpayer dollars that would have been used on the death penalty case can be redirected toward crime prevention and response so that what happened to Alex never happens to another child in our county,” Cromwell said.
Two other people were charged and pled guilty in connection with Alex’s death. James Sasser Jr., 49, pled guilty to felony deliberate homicide, felony child endangerment and felony tampering with a witness in August 2021. Judge John Brown sentenced him to serve 100 years for the homicide charge and 10 years each for the child endangerment and tampering charges. James Sasser III pled guilty to felony deliberate homicide and, in October 2020, was sentenced to the Montana Department of Corrections until he is 18 years old.
Batts’ jury trial is currently scheduled for July 10 through Aug. 4, 2023.