MINNEAPOLIS — EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above contains graphic language. Viewer discretion is advised.
A Spring Park woman will serve the remainder of her life in prison with no chance of parole after being convicted of first and second-degree murder in the shooting death of her young son.
Julissa Thaler was sentenced by Hennepin County District Court Judge Jay Quam Thursday morning for killing 6-year-old Eli Hart the night of May 19, 2022. Minnesota statute calls for a mandatory life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction.
In court Thursday, Thaler sat with her defense team as victim impact statements were read by Eli's stepmother and his aunt, who fostered the boy when he was removed from his mother's home by social services. Both spoke of how the world knows Eli as a murder victim, but insisted he is so much more.
"You could see the love and bonding shared every second they were together," Eli's stepmother Josephine Jopshson told the court while describing the relationship between the boy and his father Tory Hart. "Nothing will ever be the same. The pain will never go away."
Tory Hart chose not to speak, but stood next to Josephson and hugged her when she broke down.
Eli's aunt Nikita Kromberg described Eli as more of a son than a nephew, describing how the boy was like brothers with her two boys, 6-year-old Reece and 12-year-old Jason. "Eli meant the world to so many people. He was so kind and so amazing. Always had a smile on his face."
Kromberg described the devastating impact Eli's murder had on her youngest son, telling the court he hated going to school because his cousin was no longer there. She said after therapy, he sees Eli as a butterfly. Kromberg also spoke of the guilt she feels for not doing something to save the boy from death at his mother's hands.
"To this day, I blame myself for not saving Eli when I was fostering him," she told the court. "I should have documented things better, taken pictures or video of Eli and any encounters I had with this monster (Thaler)."
"How could someone do such an evil thing to an amazing, loving kid?" Kromberg wondered aloud.
Judge Quam spoke directly to Kromberg following her statement. "You realize it wasn't your fault... it wasn't your fault at all," he assured her. "So the sooner you let go of that, the sooner you can appreciate all the time you did have with Eli."
"Thank you for what you did.. for Eli… you made his life better,” Quam added.
When victim impact statements concluded and she was given a chance to speak, Thaler uttered one profane sentence. "I'm innocent, fu** you all, you're garbage."
KARE 11's Lou Raguse, a veteran crime and courts reporter, called it "one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen in a courtroom."
"Ms. Thaler, I don't know that that's appropriate here," Judge Quam responded, admonishing Thaler before sentencing her to life behind bars without chance of parole. "The worst thing that seems to happen to parents is to lose their child. It's worse though, when you don't lose your child to something like cancer or an accident. It's when someone takes that child from the world. What I can't imagine, nobody can imagine, is when the person who takes a child from the world is the one that brought that child in."
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty released a statement expressing hope Eli's family and those who loved him can heal. "We now have legal closure on this heartbreaking tragedy. But nothing will ever fill the void in the world that Eli left behind," Moriarty said. "I hope his family can slowly move forward and eventually find some level of peace."
Eli's stepmother spoke with Lou Raguse following the sentencing. She wanted to draw attention to a memorial playground they hope to build at Surfside Beach in Mound in Eli's name.
Those who are interested in donating to the project can do so on a dedicated GoFundMe page.
It took less than two hours of deliberation for a Hennepin County jury to find Thaler guilty on both murder counts Feb. 8.
Thaler was involved in a custody dispute with Eli's father Tory Hart. Following Eli's death Hart sued Dakota County Social Services, alleging that employees returned his son to Thaler despite concerns of alleged drug use and deteriorating mental health.
"On behalf of Eli’s family, Tory Hart would like to thank the jury, the court, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and justice partners for their good work," read a statement released after the verdict. "This is a tragic and heartbreaking event that could have been avoided if Eli had never been returned to a dangerous home."
The defendant told Judge Jay Quam that she would not take the stand to testify on advice from her attorneys, and the defense rested its case without calling a single witness. In closing arguments defense attorney Bryan Leary conceded that Thaler "aided and assisted" in Eli's murder, but added, "she's not charged with a crime that they've proved."
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