A 28-year-old Minnesota mother accused of killing her own 6-year-old son is facing a potential mandatory life sentence after prosecutors upgraded the charges against her. A Hennepin County grand jury has returned an indictment against Julissa Angelica Genrich Thaler on one count of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of young Eli Hart, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.
Thaler had initially been charged with one count of second-degree murder – with intent, but not premeditated – in May after she was pulled over driving around with Eli’s body in the trunk of her heavily damaged car. Under Minnesota state law, Thaler will face a mandatory sentence of life in prison if she is convicted on the first-degree murder charge.
According to the latest court filing from prosecutors, officers with the Orono Police Department on May 20, 2022, conducted a traffic stop on a Chevy Impala driven by Thaler that was missing one of its front tires and riding straight on the wheel rim.
Upon approaching the vehicle, police said they observed that the back window of the Impala was “broken out” and Thaler appeared to have blood on her hands. Officers also found a shotgun shell, a spent casing, blood, and what appeared to be a bullet hole in the back seat of the car.
A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed that Eli’s dead body had been stuffed into the trunk, laying alongside a shotgun.
“The victim had been shot multiple times, and there was a shotgun in the trunk,” prosecutors wrote. “Officers arrested Defendant and observed that Defendant had blood and what appeared to be brain matter in her hair at the time of her arrest.”
Based on witness testimony, police said they learned that Thaler’s car had stopped at a gas station not long before she was pulled over and parked near a dumpster on the property, according to a sworn affidavit of probable cause. Investigators followed “the damage done to the roads by the vehicle’s rim” and traced it back to the dumpster. Inside they said they allegedly found “a backpack, blood, bone, and what appeared to be brain matter.”
Investigators said they continued following the damage caused by the car’s rim and found “multiple locations where blood and brain matter were discarded.” In a different dumpster, police said they recovered a child booster seat that “had sustained damage consistent with a shotgun blast.”
An autopsy revealed that Eli had been shot multiple times, “possibly up to nine times,” including multiple shots to the boy’s torso and head.
One of Thaler’s friends also told investigators that a week before Eli was found dead, Thaler had indicated that she “wanted to learn how to use a gun,” so the friend took her to the gun range. The friend further stated that Thaler brought a shotgun wrapped in a gray blanket to the range two days in a row.
Eli was killed as Thaler and the boy’s father, Tory Hart, were in the midst of a contentious custody battle over the child. A Dakota County judge granted full custody of the child to Thaler shortly before Thaler allegedly shot him, against the wishes of several of her own family members.
As previously reported by Law&Crime, Thaler’s father claims he told the judge that he believed Eli was in danger before custody was granted to his daughter.
“I gave the judge her detailed mental health history,” her father, who asked not to be named out of concern for relatives, reportedly said in an interview with the Star Tribune. “I told him that she was displaying paranoia and auditory hallucinations. I said I feared for Eli’s safety. It all fell on deaf ears.”
Eli’s father in August filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dakota County and three social services employees alleging they were negligent in ignoring the warnings of family members as well as other signs that Thaler was a danger to Eli.
Thaler is currently being held in Hennepin County Jail on $2 million bond. Court records show that she is scheduled to go to trial on the first- and second-degree murder charges on Jan. 20.
See the court documents below.
(image via Hennepin County Jail)
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