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Teenage uncle sentenced in West Yellowstone boy’s death
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Teenage uncle sentenced in West Yellowstone boy’s death

A teenage boy was sentenced Thursday to the Montana Department of Corrections after admitting he took part in killing his 12-year-old nephew earlier this year at their home near West Yellowstone.

James Sasser III, 15, was sentenced to the corrections department until he is 18 years old, according to a plea agreement. After that, the plea agreement said, he will be on probation until he is 25 and is required to pay a $500 fine, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Friday.

Sasser III admitted Thursday to felony deliberate homicide in connection to the death of 12-year-old Alex Hurley. He appeared with attorney Annie DeWolf in Gallatin County District Court before Judge John Brown. Sasser III was tried as a juvenile.

Prosecutors did not recommend that Sasser III register as a violent offender. Sasser III is required to participate in counseling during his sentence.

Annie DeWolf, Sasser III’s attorney, said the case is “hauntingly tragic” and that children should feel loved, wanted and safe within their own family.

She said Sasser III’s actions were completely avoidable and happened at the direction and encouragement of his parents. DeWolf called Sasser III an incredibly kind young man who survived a chaotic and toxic environment.

She said that he has accepted responsibility for his actions and is looking forward to moving forward. DeWolf said Sasser III will best honor Alex’s life by leading a positive, successful life.

She quoted what Sasser III said in court: “I understand that I can’t change what I have done in the past, but I can make better decisions in the future. I am going to make amends by being the best I can be. I want to make myself better.”

The victim’s grandparents James Sasser Jr. and Patricia Batts are each charged in connection to the boy’s death.

Sasser Jr. is charged with felonies deliberate homicide and criminal child endangerment. Batts is charged with deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment and strangulation of partner or family member, all felonies.

Gage Roush, a friend of the family, is charged with felony assault on a minor after prosecutors said video showed him beating the boy with a wooden paddle. Madison Sasser, the boy’s aunt, is charged with felonies aggravated kidnapping and negligent homicide.

Each defendant has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The family is accused of beating and torturing Alex, whom they took in after his father died, at their home on Buffalo Drive near Hebgen Lake.

The 15-year-old uncle confirmed to police that he and Batts beat Alex with a wooden paddle when Alex did not want to do jumping jacks or squat against a wall. He said he and Batts took turns being duct-taped to Alex to keep him from running away at night, court documents say.

Sasser III said that one morning, Alex tried to escape from “behind the couch,” and that Batts lost her temper. Sasser III and Alex wrestled a bit, and Sasser III told police that he hit Alex three or four times and made him cry.

He said Alex “started acting weird” after the “pretty bad fight.”

The day before Alex was found dead, Sasser III told police, Sasser III hit Alex with the wooden paddle once. Sasser III said the paddle broke, but denied that it broke because of the hit, court documents say.

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