James Sasser Jr.

James Sasser Jr. listens via video call as the mother of James Alex Hurley gives a victim's statement during what was meant to be Sasser Jr.'s sentencing hearing at the Law and Justice Center on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Sasser Jr.'s sentencing was postponed because he tested positive for COVID-19 the day before and could not be physically present for the hearing.

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A West Yellowstone man who pleaded guilty to the murder of his 12-year-old grandson was scheduled to be sentenced on Friday morning, but the hearing was postponed because the man, who is being held at the Gallatin County Detention Center, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Alex Hurley’s mother Alicia Davis was already on her way to Montana from Texas to give a victim impact statement to the court when Sasser Jr., who defense attorney Colin M. Stephens told the court is unvaccinated, tested positive on Wednesday night.

Because Davis was already en route to Bozeman, Judge Brown began the sentencing hearing Friday morning and sent the court into recess after Davis testified.

Davis, at times through tears, told the court stories about her son. He had gone to West Yellowstone in the fall of 2017 to live with his father and spend the school year in Montana while his brother stayed with Davis in Texas. Hurley’s father died in 2018, and he went to live with the Sassers.

“He could see a complete stranger and they could be upset and he would go over there, not knowing them, and say jokes and smile and give a hug, tell them that they’re loved,” Davis said.

She said Hurley was a protector to his brother Austin, who Davis said has special needs and has become more secluded and “shut down” since Alex’s death. The two had a costume chest that they would play with and, when Hurley noticed Davis was upset or not feeling well, he would put on a costume and put on a performance for his mom until he saw her smile.

“This crime … it’s not something you would think of when you say ‘grandfather’ or ‘father,’” Davis said. “This crime was committed by a monster … instead of caring for Alex or any one of his kids, he stood by and allowed the abuse.”

This is the second rescheduling of Sasser Jr.’s sentencing hearing.

The sentencing was originally scheduled to take place on Sept. 9, 2021, but his attorneys Stephens and Nick K. Brooke had a scheduling conflict. The hearing was rescheduled until January 14. The court is scheduled to reconvene for the remainder of the sentencing hearing on Feb. 15, 2022 at 9 a.m.

Sasser Jr. faces no less than 10 years and up to life in prison for the deliberate homicide charge, up to 10 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines for tampering with a witness, and up to 10 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines for criminal child endangerment.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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