Attorneys plan to problem dying penalty in West Yellowstone homicide case | Crime and Courts

Lawyers for a West Yellowstone woman facing the death penalty for her grandson’s death plan to question the constitutionality of the death penalty in the coming months.

Patricia Batts appeared before Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown Friday with defense attorneys Craig Shannon and Greg Jackson for a status conference on legal proceedings leading up to a trial set to begin in 2022.

Batts is charged with willful homicide, aggravated kidnapping, child endangerment, and strangulation of partners or family members, all crimes related to the death of her 12-year-old grandson, James Alex Hurley.

Defense attorneys plan to file motions challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty in the case by the end of October, though attorneys did not respond to their arguments on Friday.

Montana is one of 24 states that allow the death penalty – 23 states have abolished the death penalty and three more have a moratorium on death as a punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last execution in Montana was in 2006, and according to the DPIC, two people are on death row in the state.

Defense attorneys also provided prosecutor Bjorn Boyer with copies of four petitions contesting law enforcement searches related to their client.

Police say investigators found videos on a cell phone belonging to Patricia Batts and her teenage son, James Sasser III, of the family who tortured Hurley.

The attorneys also discussed Batts’ contact with Sasser III, who is not allowed in criminal proceedings related to Hurley’s death but is allowed in a separate, non-criminal matter related to her suitability as a parent.

Batts’ contact with Sasser III on non-criminal matters took place in a virtual courtroom and is allowed “in the spirit of family reunion,” Jackson Brown said at the status conference on Friday.

Boyer argued that Batts was not allowed to speak to her son – who pleaded guilty of premeditated murder in connection with Hurley’s death and is in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections – or any other witness, as reported by the court in the Criminal proceedings against them.

“Any contact would be a violation,” Boyer told Brown. “The order is clear, there is no contact (allowed).”

Brown suggested that defense attorneys request a bail change so Batts can contact Sasser III, which would then allow prosecutors to respond in writing.

The attorneys also agreed to postpone the start of the Batts trial from May 31, 2022 to June 1, 2022, starting.

Brown warned defense attorneys that the start of the trial may not be postponed to allow more time to file applications.

“Never say never, but we’ll be on trial on June 1st,” Brown said.

Prosecutors allege Batts beat and punished her grandson and taught her children to do the same. Hurley was found dead in February 2020.

James Sasser Jr., Batt’s husband, is also charged with willful homicide related to Hurley’s death. {/ div}

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