7 jurors seated in Thaler trial as group seeks end to deadly intimate partner violence

Seven jurors are now seated for Julissa Thaler’s first-degree murder trial in the death of her young son, Eli Hart.

Individual jury questioning got underway Tuesday as a statewide organization shines a spotlight on the issue of domestic homicide and relationship abuse across Minnesota. Authorities have said a custody dispute was at the heart of the murder of the 6-year-old child.

Thaler said in court Monday, she would never do it. 

Because this is a first-degree murder case, with defendant Thaler facing life in prison if convicted, the jury questioning process is done individually.

One-by-one, prospective jurors walked into Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam’s courtroom, questioned by both sides.

By day’s end, the court had seated 7 jurors who will ultimately decide Thaler’s fate. Judge Quam has said he would like 14 or 15 jurors before opening statements, 12 who will ultimately deliberate, and then either 2 or 3 alternates.

The 28-year-old Thaler is accused of shooting Hart up to nine times

Law enforcement discovered his lifeless body and a shotgun in Thaler’s trunk during a traffic stop near Lake Minnetonka last May.

Prosecutors contend the murder was premeditated, pointing to Thaler’s history of Google searches, looking up such subjects as "How much blood can a child lose," and allegedly, exploring life insurance policies for Eli before his death.

At the time he was killed, Thaler and the boy’s father were involved in a court custody fight the state will be allowed to introduce broadly. Judge Quam does not want the specific details coming into the criminal trial.

Several paternal side family members were in court Monday.

Meantime on Tuesday in Saint Paul, Violence Free Minnesota highlighted its work to end domestic homicide stemming from relationship abuse by bringing attention to the tragic stories of the victims and providing resources to the community.

"Listen to your loved ones who are experiencing violence," said Joe Shannon, a spokesman for the organization, during their annual memorial event at the Capitol. "Be the person they trust and feel safe around. Let them know that you are there for them."

The group singled out nearly two dozen murder victims from 2022 at the news conference. 

At this point, the murder of Hart does not meet the group’s criteria for domestic homicide which is defined: "Children who are killed by a parent’s current or former intimate partner where there is sufficient public information that the perpetrator killed the child as an act of abuse against the parent."

Shannon said the case could be reclassified based on the evidence at trial.

Jury selection is scheduled to resume Wednesday afternoon. Judge Quam has said depending on how quickly the process goes, opening statements could begin as early as Friday. But more likely, on Monday, February 6.

A motion by Thaler’s defense attorney to allow the defendant to leave the courtroom during a graphic or emotional testimony during trial was rejected by Judge Quam. The judge ruled Thaler must remain in the courtroom throughout the trial proceedings.