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West Yellowstone woman faces homicide charges, death penalty

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After the death of 12-year-old James Alex Hurley near Hebgen Lake in February 2020, five people, four of them Hurley’s family members, were charged with crimes related to his death. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Patricia Batts, Hurley’s paternal grandmother. Her defense attorneys are now challenging that sentence.

Patricia Batts, Hurley’s paternal grandmother, called 911 that day, alerting authorities that her grandson was no longer breathing and was dead, according to the recording of the call presented in court. Batts has been charged with four felonies, including deliberate homicide, in the death of the child.

A police investigation was conducted in addition to the coroner’s investigation. Hurley was determined to have died from blunt force trauma to the back of the head according to a preliminary report, reported the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Four of the five people charged have since pleaded guilty to abusing Hurley or being directly involved in his murder. Hurley’s grandmother Batts, however, has not. On May 8, 2020, Gallatin County prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against her. On June 12, 2021, her attorneys announced they plan to challenge the death penalty in the case.

Batts’ defense attorneys, Craig Kevin Shannon and Gregory Jackson, have “filed a notice of affirmative defense on Oct. 28 that indicates they may argue that Batts, at the time of the crime, had a mental disease or disorder that makes her unable to be put to death for the crimes if convicted,” the Chronicle reported.

Since 1876, only three people have been executed in Montana, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Patricia Batts’ trial is scheduled for May 31, 2022, in Gallatin County District Court overseen by Judge John Brown.

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