Julissa Thaler: Prosecutors assure “horrid” photos won’t be shown; Tory Hart testifies after opening statements

Lavinia Thompson

Jurors and the prosecution are already treading lightly on what is likely to be an emotional trial against a woman accused of the shooting death of her 6-year-old son last May, the Star Tribune reports.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Allard reassured both the judge and potential jurors that graphic crime scene photos of Eli Hart’s dead body wouldn’t be shown in court, as even he doesn’t want to see them again, the Tribune says.

“They are horrid,” he stated.

Jury selection is expected to take most of this week, and KMSP reports that seven jurors have been seated so far. While prosecutors allege that a bitter custody dispute is the motive for the crime, Julissa Thaler proclaimed in court on Jan. 30, 2023 that she would never have done it.

However, prosecutors revealed Thaler’s Google search history, which included subjects like “How much blood can a child lose,” and they also allege that she looked up life insurance policies for her son, KMSP reports.

With the case being a first-degree murder trial, each juror is individually questioned by both the prosecution and defense before Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam, KMSP says. Judge Quam voiced his wish for 14 or 15 jurors seated before the trial begins; 12 to serve and two or three alternates.

Thaler, the 28-year-old accused, faces both a second and first-degree murder charge after police pulled her over on May 20, 2022 and discovered Eli’s body in the trunk of her car, the Tribune says. A caller reported her for driving with a broken back window on her car and a blown out tire. When police pulled her over, they saw blood on her hand, a shotgun shell, and a spent casing in her car, causing them to search the car further. Both the body and the gun were found in the trunk.

The Tribune explains that police let Thaler go home before they discovered the boy’s body, and when they caught up to her at her residence, she had allegedly fled and left the washing machine running with the clothes she’d been wearing at the scene.

Young Eli had been shot up to nine times, the Tribune adds, citing court documents accusing Thaler of buying a shotgun and learning how to shoot it shortly before the murder.

Thaler requested she be allowed to leave the court room before the graphic photos of her deceased son are shown, which the judge denied, the Tribune says.

Once again, Thaler refused to take the plea deal offered, which would see her go to prison for 40 years, instead of the life sentence she potentially faces should she be convicted, the Tribune says.

Julissa ThalerPhoto byHennepin County

The bitter and deadly custody battle

The rage with which the murder allegedly happened had built up and brewed for some time before detonating, as People Magazine previously reported that Eli was placed into foster care in January 2021. Tory Hart’s fiancee, Josie Josephson, said Eli spent “457 days between county custody and family foster care.” She added that she and Tory were permitted unsupervised visits with Eli upon working closely with Dakota County.

Nikita Kronberg, wife of Thaler’s cousin, wrote on the GoFundMe page that Thaler filed “several false Orders of Protection”, preventing Tory and Eli from having a relationship. Eli spent eleven months living with Nikita. Nikita says that the father and son became close.

“During that time, Eli and Tory were able to start a relationship, and their bond was powerful from the start. Eli fell in love with his father and loved spending time with him. Tory was excited to make up for all the lost years and was thrilled to start teaching his son how to fish and ride a bike with no training wheels,” Kronberg explained.

Despite concerning behaviors Thaler exhibited during a Dec. 2021 home trial when Eli was placed back with her, Thaler was granted full custody again in May 2022, WCCO previously reported. Tory had given the courts a full account of Thaler’s history of mental issues, unstable housing, neglect of Eli, and traffic violations.

Tory has since filed a lawsuit seeking more than $75,000 in damages against Dakota County staff for failure to provide adequate child protection to his son, KARE11 reported last August.

Opening statements gives Tory Hart a chance to speak

The trial got underway on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, during which the defense and prosecution laid their cases before the judge and jury - and Eli’s heartbroken father spoke out for the first time since Eli’s violent death, according to reports by KMSP and KARE11.

The prosecution described Eli as “a friendly talkative outgoing kindergartener. He loved playing with cars and going fishing with his dad ,” KARE11 reports. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Britta Rapp promised the court she would show evidence proving Thaler maliciously ended the life of her own innocent son.

The evidence, Rapp said, includes surveillance video from the night before Eli died, showing Thaler leaving the apartment with Eli and a large object wrapped in a blanket, which she put into the trunk of her car, KARE11 says. Rapp said police found that same blanket the next day, wrapped around Eli’s lifeless body, and next to it, a shotgun with blood on it.

Rapp also revealed that the prosecution could prove Thaler shopped for that shotgun for a month, and allegedly told the salesperson who sold her the ammo that she wanted one that would “blow the biggest hole in something,” KARE11 says.

KMSP reports that Thaler allegedly bought 40 rounds of ammunition for the shotgun days before Eli’s death.

She added that Thaler’s internet searches would also be among the evidence, KARE11 states, noting that searching up “how much blood can a child lose” proves Eli’s murder was premeditated, and therefore, Thaler should be convicted of first degree murder.

Defense attorney Rebecca Noothe simply told the court that “Julissa Thaler is not guilty of murdering her son,” and promised to show that intent and guilt cannot be proved by the evidence to be presented, though Noothe gave no alternative explanation as to how Eli wound up dead, KARE11 reports.

Noothe did, however, say that there is evidence Thaler was planning a life with her son that included Disney trips, and that Thaler bought the shotgun for their protection, KARE11 says.

“There are no witnesses who heard her talk about killing, no witnesses who saw her pull the trigger – because she didn’t. Evidence won’t show premeditation or intent,” Noothe added.

Tory Hart was the first witness to the stand following opening statements, KARE11 reports. In a quiet voice, he explained to the jury how he filed for full custody of Eli in March 2022, to which Thaler opposed as she wanted to maintain full custody of Eli for herself.

Tory described his own son as popular with other kids at Shirley Hills Primary School in Mound, where he was loved by everyone, KMSP says.

“He just really liked being social, talking and playing with others,” Tory said, adding after: “He was always really happy, outgoing, always full of energy, always.”

Tory and Eli HartPhoto byFamily's GoFundMe page

Eli was born with a genetic disorder that required a few surgeries in his first few months of life, Tory told the court, according to KMSP, adding that Eli wore hearing aids and had a few minimal deformities. But, Tory said, Eli was otherwise a normal kid.

He listed Eli’s favorite things as blowing bubbles, going fishing, swinging on swing sets at the park, and eating meatballs, KMSP says.

“He was everything to me. He completed my life. He just loved spending time with me and I loved spending time with him,” Tory said.

Comments / 172

Published by

Long time true crime lover and blogger who has spent years reading and studying criminal psychology. I also write mystery fiction books, and have a diploma in journalism.


More from Lavinia Thompson

Comments / 0