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Mother Killed 6-Year-Old Son 10 Days After Regaining Full Custody of Him

Father claims child welfare employees ignored warning signs.

This week Minnesota woman was found guilty of killing her 6-year-old son just ten days after regaining full custody of him. It's a case that has local residents asking how it could happen. Some point the finger at the state's child welfare services. The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning their verdict against Julissa Thaler, a 29-year-old Spring Park woman with a history of mental illness and drug abuse. The evidence presented in the case was so disturbing that the court offered jurors crisis counseling, CBS News reported. Read on to find out more about the case.

Boy Found Shot to Death In Car Trunk

CBS News Minnesota

Investigators said 6-year-old Eli Hart was shot inside Thaler's car in a parking lot at Lake Minnetonka Regional Park in Minnesota. Police found the body in the trunk on May 20 after pulling Thaler over for a traffic violation. Prosecutors said that before Eli's death, Thaler had asked a store clerk for ammunition. Authorities said the boy was shot nine times.

In closing arguments, Thaler's lawyer Bryan Leary said she participated in the boy's death but was not the one who shot him. He said no eyewitnesses, photos, or videos connected her to the killing, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Defense Argued Reasonable Doubt

CBS News Minnesota

"She's not charged with the crime they have proved," Leary said. "She destroyed evidence, lied to police, ran away, but they have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the gun was in her hands when it was fired nine times into her son." Thaler didn't testify, and her defense team didn't call witnesses.

Mother's Motive Could Have Been This


The prosecutor argued there was overwhelming evidence that Thaler was guilty. Cellphone data linked her to all the sites involved in the death, he said. He posited that Thaler killed her son, for life insurance money, because of her mental health or after the stress of a custody battle with the boy's father.

He noted that the boy's DNA was found in Thaler's hair and on her skin and clothes. If she wasn't guilty, the prosecutor asked, when police pulled her over, why didn't she say, "Oh my God, someone shot my son—he's in the trunk!"

Boy's Father Has Filed Lawsuit

CBS News Minnesota

Julissa Thaler's ex-boyfriend, Tory Hart, a fishing shop manager from Chetek, Wisconsin, has sued the state, claiming child welfare employees ignored warning signs before his son's death. Shortly before the killing, he had filed for full custody. At the trial, he told jurors his son was "everything to me," CBS News reported.

According to documents obtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, police responded to Thaler's Farmington, Michigan, home 21 times in 10 months, she was arrested for stealing drugs from a health clinic and had to find a new drug-testing facility because of "bizarre behavior." Thaler lost custody of Eli twice, first in October 2020 and then for most of 2021, CBS News reported. Yet ultimately, he was returned to her.

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Why Did She Do It?

CBS News Minnesota

That question has yet to be answered. "Eli's brutal murder is one of the most horrific cases I have encountered in 30 years working in the criminal legal system," said Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty in a statement after the verdict. "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."

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