An 18-year-old Montana man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the assault of the 12-year-old West Yellowstone boy who was tortured and killed in February.
Gage Roush, 18, was arrested and charged with felony assault of a minor and entered his not guilty plea in Gallatin County District Court on Tuesday. He was represented by his attorney, Kirsten Mull Core.
James Alex Hurley, 12, was found dead under suspicious circumstances in his home on Buffalo Drive in West Yellowstone in February.
James Hurley’s grandparents — James Sasser Jr., 47, and Patricia Batts, 48 — have been charged with felony deliberate homicide. James Hurley’s 14-year-old uncle, James Sasser III, was also charged with felony deliberate homicide, and pleaded not guilty to the charge last week in Gallatin County District Court.
After hearing bail recommendations, Judge Holly Brown continued to set bail at $50,000. An omnibus hearing for Roush is set for April 21.
Roush was arrested in February after investigators found video evidence indicating Roush, Sasser Jr., Batts and Sasser III abused the boy, according to court documents.
Roush appeared in a video taken Jan. 10, where detectives observed a “large male” striking James’ legs with his hands and a wooden paddle. James was forced into a sitting position with his feet on the floor, his knees bent and his back against the door to the garage of the home.
The larger male in the video later “forcefully tapped” James several times with a wooden stick on the outside of James’ thigh and struck James on his other thigh with his hand. James appeared to be in pain and afraid of the man, according to documents.
Detectives learned Roush was a friend of Sasser III, and investigated photos on Roush’s public Facebook profile. The clothing worn by the man in the video was similar to clothing worn by Roush in the photos on his profile. Roush was seen wearing waterproof pants with a white logo on the knee in the video that matched pants worn by Roush in the photos.
Sasser III also identified the man striking James as Roush, according to court documents.
Roush told investigators that he had grown up with the Sasser family and often visited their residence. He said that he was close to the family, and would refer to Sasser Jr. and Batts as “mom and dad.”
Roush told detectives that he showed James how to do wall sits, and that James was regularly forced to perform wall sits and jumping jacks as punishment. Roush said that his parents would discipline him with wall sits and that his parents physically abused him as a child.
Investigators showed Roush the video after he denied hitting James. Roush admitted to hitting James, and identified himself as the man in the video hitting James.
He described the first incident where he had stopped by the family’s residence and showed Batts how to punish James with wall sits. Batts said she liked the idea, and Roush estimated that James was forced to do wall sits for about 45 minutes. The first time James did wall sits was about one month before James’ death.
Roush agreed that hitting and making James do wall sits was abuse and said that he “regretted everything” and that he wished he could tell James “sorry.”
The second incident occurred the day after the first incident and was partially caught on video. Roush suggested the punishment because James was “mouthing off” to Batts. James was forced to do wall sits for 45 minutes, Roush said.
Roush said he was 18 years old when he abused James and knew that James was 12 years old. At the time the video was shot, Roush weighed about 250 pounds, while James weighed about 103 pounds.
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