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Eli Hart Killing: Mother Accused Of Murdering 6-Year-Old Son Makes Court Appearance

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As the investigation widens, a Minnesota mother made a court appearance Tuesday afternoon after she allegedly murdered her 6-year-old son, Eli Hart.

Julissa Thaler, 28, is charged with second-degree murder in Hennepin County. Her virtual appearance in court began at 1:30 p.m., four days after the body of her son was found in the trunk of a car in Orono.

Julissa Thaler
Julissa Thaler (credit: Hennepin County)

Thaler appeared in court via Zoom wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and a medical mask. Her public defender Shauna Kieffer asked for a delay to access "mental health records before we argue bail."

Thaler then asked Kieffer, "And the results off the rape kit?" Kieffer appeared to reassure Thaler, saying, "And the results of the rape kit." WCCO reached out to Thaler's attorney and Orono police for an explanation of the rape kit comment and has not heard back.

The judge agreed to postpone the bail hearing until June 21.

Attorney Joe Tamburino, who is not affiliated with the case, says any claim of rape won't make murder charges go away.

"The case still goes on," he said. "There is still a prosecution and it goes to a jury or a judge."

Tamburino says the delay to evaluate mental health records indicates the defense is looking into Thaler's mental competency to stand trial.

Late Tuesday morning, the boy's identity was confirmed by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner as Eli Kenneth Alejo Hart. His cause of death was listed as multiple shotgun wounds, with the manner of death being homicide.

Orono police say they were conducting a traffic stop when they found Eli Hart in Thaler's trunk. A shotgun was also found inside the trunk.

In another update Tuesday, police say that information has led investigators to addresses in Mound and Minnetrista where "officers have found evidence implicating those locations as potential scenes."

Due to the multiple crime scenes, there is now a joint investigation that includes Orono police, Minnetrista police, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.

Dakota County court documents revealed Eli Hart was at the center of a custody battle between Thaler and his biological father. He was also placed into foster care in January of 2021 after concerns grew of his mother's mental health, her criminal history and living situation.

eli hart
Eli Hart (credit: CBS)

But the documents also showed there were no concerns about Eli Hart's physical well-being. Thaler was awarded sole custody less than two weeks before she was arrested on Saturday.

WCCO spoke to Erin Turner, a family law attorney who is not associated with the case, and she says it's hard to get a full picture of the situation based on just one report.

"The goal of child protection court is to reunite the child with the parent. It's very difficult to terminate parental rights. There has to be a large amount of evidence," Turner said. "It's everybody's worst nightmare to get that wrong, and unfortunately sometimes that happens."

According to the criminal complaint, Thaler had recently wanted to learn how to use a gun, so she went with a friend to the gun range. Court documents say she would often carry a shotgun out of her apartment, wrapped in a gray blanket. A gray blanket was also located in the trunk during the traffic stop.

The fiancée of the boy's father told WCCO the charges were not enough, but that no charge would be able to bring the boy back.

Thaler is currently being held on a $2 million bond. If convicted, she could face up to 40 years in prison.

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