A Minnesota mother whose 6-year-old son was returned to her after a year in foster care despite protestations from the boy’s father was convicted of murdering the boy with a shotgun.
Julissa Thaler, 29, who reportedly had a history of mental illness, asked a store clerk for ammunition that would “blow the biggest hole” before murdering her son Eli Hart in May 2022, shooting nine shots into him before putting his body in the trunk of her vehicle. According to authorities, Thaler bought the shotgun soon after Eli’s father Tory filed papers asking the court for full custody. Eli had been placed in foster care in January 2021 with his foster mother Nikita Kronberg.
Eli Hart was 6. His mother is on trial for his murder. Eli’s father told the jury in Hennepin County “..he was everything to me..he completed my life.” Eli’s dad add that he liked bubbles, playing with toy cars, and fishing. @kstp pic.twitter.com/GrSekOUSZ0
— Eric Chaloux (@EricChalouxKSTP) February 3, 2023
An exhausting day of testimony is over in the Julissa Thaler trial. This image may stick with me forever. Little 6-year-old Eli Hart’s backpack was thrown in the trash, his homework still inside. His dad testified that Eli loved going to school. Loved being social. Senseless. pic.twitter.com/O0DQs4JOxh
— Lou Raguse (@LouRaguse) February 3, 2023
“During that time, Eli and Tory were able to start a relationship, and their bond was powerful from the start,” Kronberg wrote on a GoFundMe page dedicated to paying for the funeral costs. “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.”
“At the end of December 2021, Eli returned to his mother’s house for a home trial,” Kronberg continued. “Due to many red flags, Eli’s mother was showing, Tory tried extremely hard to get custody of Eli. Unfortunately, more false Orders of Protection were filed, which postponed custody hearings. Numerous parties made many statements to CPS, fearing that mom would harm Eli if full custody were returned. Sadly full custody was returned on May 10, 2022.”
“Eli’s brutal murder is one of the most horrific cases I have encountered in 30 years working in the criminal legal system,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty stated. “Nothing will ever fill the emptiness Eli’s father and other loved ones now live with every day, but I’m hopeful this verdict will make it just a bit easier to remember Eli as the toothless, happy, smiling little boy we have seen in photos.”
The trial was so disturbing that jurors were offered crisis counseling. Prosecutor Dan Allard told jurors they would not see the graphic photos of Eli, who was strapped into his seat in the car when he was repeatedly shot. Allard told the judge, “We are self-editing because I don’t want to see them again. They are horrid. The jury doesn’t want to see them. They are as bad as I’ve seen in any case.”
Thaler’s former boyfriend, Robert Pikkarainen, said that the night before the murder, Eli didn’t want to go to bed. He told the court, “We started playing with the kitties and Eli was getting rowdy and Mom didn’t like it. She was hitting him. Then Eli was hitting her — they were fighting. So she put the shotgun in the car and she came back up. I was lying in her bed. She grabbed Eli and went downstairs.”
Insurance broker Mathias Martin testified that Thaler wanted a $400,000 policy for her son. He recalled that when he informed her policies for children only go up to roughly $50,000, “she was very adamant about $400,000, no less.”
Tory Hart’s fiancée Josie Josephson, told Fox 9, “Not only did we express concerns to multiple people, multiple times…every time the response was, ‘This is something for family courts.’ (CPS) said laws do not allow us to address this, unless (they) see physical abuse, (they) have no grounds to remove him from her home.”
Eli Hart’s father Tory Hart filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dakota County in August 2022.