James Sasser Jr.

James Sasser Jr. appears in Gallatin County Court on March 16, 2020. Sasser Jr. is charged with the deliberate homicide and criminal child endangerment in the murder of his grandson, 12-year-old James "Alex" Hurley.

BOZEMAN, Mont. - The first trial date in the case of murdered West Yellowstone boy James "Alex" Hurley has been set for March 2021.

Four family members are facing felony charges for the torture and beating death of 12-year-old Alex, who died on February 3 at his home after years of alleged abuse at the hands of his West Yellowstone extended family. One family friend, Gage Roush, is facing a felony assault charge for abuse that allegedly took place a few weeks before Alex's death.

Alex's paternal grandparents, James Sasser Jr. and Patricia Batts, and their 14-year-old son are facing charges of deliberate homicide in the case. Batts faces the death penalty if convicted; she is also facing felony charges of aggravated kidnapping, child endangerment, and strangulation of a family member. Sasser Jr. faces an additional charge of criminal child endangerment. Batts and Sasser Jr.'s 18-year-old daughter, Madison Sasser, is facing charges of negligent homicide and aggravated kidnapping.

On Wednesday, the court was expected to set three trial dates (for Batts, Sasser Jr., and their 14-year-old son), but only ended up setting a date for Sasser, Jr. He will have a ten-day trial starting March 29, 2021.

Batts - Alex's grandmother - and her 14-year-old son both had their omnibus hearings, which would determine the dates of their trials, pushed back on Wednesday.

Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown is allowing 250 people for Sasser Jr.'s jury pool, per the request of one of the lawyers. The pool is larger than any the court has seen in years, as most trials only have 85 jurors in a pool.

Finding jurors for each of the trials will be tough, and it's presenting some challenges for the court.

"Because of Mr. Sasser's case and given the nature of the case and the fact that you want me to draw 250 jurors," Judge Brown said while trying to determine a trial date in court on Wednesday, "I may have to go outside my criminal trial months."

In the case of Alex's 14-year-old uncle, the teen's defense attorney, Annie DeWolf, says they're getting a second opinion to decide if he can be tried as an adult.

COVID-19 might push the uncle's trial back even further, with DeWolf telling Judge Brown that the teen is being quarantined after going to a dentist appointment and that she's had a hard time getting in contact with him.

Montana Right Now spoke with the youth center where Alex's uncle is being held until his trial, with an official saying that it's standard procedure to quarantine anyone who has left their facility or had contact with someone from outside of the facility. They would not confirm if the 14-year-old had been tested for COVID-19 or what his results were.

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