A division of the Montana Attorney General’s Office will take over prosecution of a West Yellowstone homicide case.
The Gallatin County Commission OK’d handing over the Patricia Batts case to the Prosecution Services Bureau Monday. Batts was charged with deliberate homicide and three other felony charges stemming from the death of her 12-year-old grandson, James Alex Hurley, in 2020.
Gallatin County Attorney Audrey Cromwell said during a Monday meeting with the commission that staffing was the reason that her office wanted to hand prosecution of the case over to the state.
“We are down so many attorneys and cannot give this case the attention it deserves,” Cromwell said.
The Gallatin County Attorney’s Office has five open positions. It normally has a staff of 14 attorneys.
Cromwell said that she had hired three new attorneys. The new hires will have cases in three different areas to focus on, including felony cases, neglect cases and misdemeanor cases in justice court.
The office is also working on recruiting more attorneys, and plans to work on getting interns from University of Montana’s law program, she said.
Monday’s action by the commission was not the first time that cases from the county attorney’s office have been moved to the state’s Prosecution Services Bureau.
Cromwell said that former deputy Gallatin County attorney Jordan Salo brought cases she was working on to the state bureau when she joined the staff last year. Salo brought six cases that are now under the jurisdiction of the Prosecution Services Bureau, according to county documents.
She said the county commission also approved handing more homicide and sexual intercourse without consent cases to the state bureau earlier this month. The county plans to move five cases, including the Batts case, to the state.
That list of cases includes David Scott Jackson, who was charged in 2020 with two counts of attempted deliberate homicide, arson, and criminal endangerment, and Zachary Norman, who was charged with a felony double homicide for the alleged shootings of brothers Brendan and Chase Estabrook.
Others include Joseph Fairchild, who was charged with attempted deliberate homicide for the alleged stabbing of his roommate, and the case of Francisco Padilla-Canales, who was charged with deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, tampering with witnesses and aggravated burglary.
Shifting jurisdiction over those cases from the county to the state would come at no cost to taxpayers, Cromwell added.
“Basically the (Prosecution Services) Bureau has taken our homicide trials from now until August… until we are able to hire some additional attorneys,” Cromwell said.