MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors and Julissa Thaler's defense team began laying out their cases Friday, framing the arguments jurors will hear in the murder trial of the Spring Park woman accused of killing her own son.
Thaler is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly shooting 6-year-old Eli Hart multiple times with a shotgun in May of 2022 and placing him in the trunk of her vehicle. A traffic stop in Orono early the morning of May 20 led authorities to Eli's body, and investigators said the evidence found in the vehicle led police to arrest Thaler. Prosecutors say a heated custody battle over the boy was the motive for his murder.
In opening arguments, the state described 6-year-old Eli as "a friendly talkative outgoing kindergartener. He loved playing with cars and going fishing with his dad." But Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Britta Rapp told jurors that Eli's own mother cut his life short, and promised to provide evidence that will tie her to the killing.
Rapp said the prosecution will share surveillance video from the night before Eli's body was found, showing Thaler leaving her apartment with her son and loading a long object wrapped in a blanket into the trunk. Rapp told the panel police found Eli's body the next day wrapped in that same blanket, next to a shotgun with blood on it.
Prosecutors will also introduce evidence Thaler spent over a month shopping for that shotgun, allegedly telling a salesman who sold her ammo she wanted the type that would "blow the biggest hole in something. " Rapp also said jurors will hear about internet searches Thaler conducted on life insurance policies for her son, including one that read "How much does life insurance pay for a dead child?"
The most disturbing search, KARE 11's Lou Raguse Tweeted, was "How much blood can a 6-year-old lose?" Rapp told the jury this is evidence of premeditation that proves first-degree murder.
Raguse described the prosecution's opening statements as "gut-wrenching," sharing that investigators found Eli's booster seat in a dumpster with a huge hole blown in it where a child's head would rest.
After prosecutors concluded, defense attorney Rebecca Noothed opened her statement by saying, simply, "Julissa Thaler is not guilty of murdering her son." Noothed did not provide an alternate explanation for Eli's death, but insisted that evidence will not prove either intent or premeditation.
The defense told jurors that there is evidence Thaler was planning a life together with Eli, referencing trips to Disney and Lutsen. She explained the purchase of the shotgun by saying Thaler was concerned about their safety and wanted protection.
"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," Noothed said.
Witness testimony - 10:22 a.m.
Following opening statements, the state began calling witnesses. First to the stand was Tory Hart, Eli's father, serving as the prosecution's "Spark of Life" witness. Raguse reports that Hart spoke quietly, telling the jury panel that he filed a petition in March of 2022 to gain full custody of Eli. Hart said Thaler opposed his petition, and wanted full custody herself.
"He was everything to me. He completed my life. He just loved spending time with me and I loved spending time with him," Tory Hart told jurors.
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