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A West Yellowstone woman was sentenced Friday to youth probation for her involvement in the death of her 12-year-old nephew almost a year ago, and she has agreed to testify against her parents who are charged in connection to the boy’s death.

Madison Sasser, 19, was sentenced to youth probation with the Montana Department of Corrections until she turns 21. After that she’ll be on adult probation until she turns 25.

At the hearing, Sasser admitted to felony aggravated kidnapping of James Alex Hurley. She appeared with attorney Elisabeth Montoya in Gallatin County District Court before Judge Peter Ohman. Sasser was tried as a juvenile.

As part of a plea agreement, prosecutor Bjorn Boyer agreed to drop a felony negligent homicide charge against Sasser. The charge could have carried up to a $50,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison.

Sasser’s admission to the charge comes days before the Feb. 3, 2020, anniversary of when Hurley was found dead at her family’s home on Buffalo Drive near Hebgen Lake.

Police said in charging documents that Madison’s mother Patricia Batts and teenage brother James Sasser III each had videos on their cellphones of the family torturing Alex.

Madison’s father James Sasser Jr. later admitted he knew what was happening to the boy and that he thought Batts’ punishments of Hurley were excessive, court documents say. Sasser Jr. also admitted that he verbally abused Hurley, court documents say.

A neighbor told police that in December 2019, a month before Madison’s 18th birthday, Hurley screamed and ran “as fast he could” out of the house. The neighbor said Madison and Batts caught Alex and held him. Sasser III then dragged Alex back to the house and punched Alex in the face repeatedly, court documents say.

In court on Friday, Madison admitted she restrained Hurley and did so knowing that James Sasser Jr. and Batts would assault him.

Madison’s attorney Elisabeth Montoya said Madison saw her parents punch, slap, kick and put Hurley in chokeholds, and deprive him of love and attention. She described Madison’s family as chaotic, manipulative, unstable, violent and traumatic — “a family that resorted to and normalized violence, torture, intimidation and fear in their kids.”

Montoya said Madison’s life at home “was a war zone.”

“Alex was the enemy. And Madison’s parents were the generals. And the other kids in the household ... were soldiers,” Montoya said.

Montoya said Madison is immature for her age, worries and is stressed constantly, and regrets what happened to Hurley.

At the time, Montoya said, Madison was a kid who was trying to please her parents by doing what she was told — “even if she was told to do things she knew were wrong.”

“Madison will live every day with the wounds that her family caused to her, her siblings and, ultimately and most severely, to Alex,” Montoya said.

Montoya apologized to Hurley’s mother, who attended the hearing by Zoom, for the abusive and violent life that Alex “suffered at the hands of people he deserved to trust most in this world” — his family.

Boyer said Hurley’s mother forgave Madison. She asked Boyer that Madison continue going to counseling and that she have no contact with her parents.

Boyer said that his sentencing recommendation recognizes that Madison played a part in the events leading up to Hurley’s death, but also that she was a minor when that happened.

“It’s something that I think (Madison) has shown remorse for — it’s a significant role but it also recognizes that this was mostly the parents, even the role that her brother James (Sasser III) had was mostly attributable to her parents,” he said.

Sasser III was sentenced in October in youth court to the Montana Department of Corrections until he turns 18 for felony deliberate homicide. After that he’ll be on probation until he is 25 and is required to pay a $500 fine.

The plea agreement in Madison’s case is contingent on Madison’s cooperation with prosecutors and an investigation against James Sasser Jr. and Batts — each have cases pending in Gallatin County District Court in connection to Hurley’s death.

Batts and James Sasser Jr. are each charged with felonies deliberate homicide and criminal child endangerment. Batts also faces charges for aggravated kidnapping and strangulation of partner or family member, both felonies.

Batts is scheduled to stand trial in May, 2022.

In a separate hearing on Friday, a Gallatin County judge set a 10-day jury trial for James Sasser Jr. to start Sept. 20.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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