From the Calaveras Enterprise:
The sister of the deceased Christina Karlsen was the latest to testify today in a long parade of character witnesses brought forward by the prosecution, painting the defendant as an abusive father and husband who showed little emotion following the death of his wife.
Karl Karlsen, 59, who is on trial for the alleged murder of his former wife in a 1991 house fire, has remained alert and engaged throughout two weeks of proceedings, often wearing reading glasses, scribbling notes and conferring with his attorneys.
In an emotional testimony, Colette Bousson stated that Christina was not only her sister but also her “best friend.” The two remained close well into adulthood and saw each other regularly in the months leading up to Christina’s death.
The visits she would often pay to Christina at her home in Murphys were full of laughter and fun with the sisters’ young children, she said. But when Karlsen was around, the atmosphere changed.
“If you didn’t abide by his rules, stay within his lines, it could be detrimental,” Bousson testified.
She recalled her present to Christina for her 30th birthday in the summer of 1990: a glamour shot session in Chico, Calif.
One of the images taken from that day was shown to the jury, a close-up shot of a done-up Christina, with pink makeup, blue eyes and a metallic headband.
Bousson said she hoped the session would “remind her how beautiful she is.”
When the sisters returned to Murphys, Karlsen was home.
“The first thing he said to her was to ‘go take your makeup off. You look like a whore.’ She ran to the bathroom crying,” Bousson said, tearing up in remembrance.
She said Karlsen would often tease Christina about her weight, calling her names such as “fatty.”
The last time Bousson visited the Karlsen household while it was still standing was on Dec. 24, 1990. The bathroom window was in tact, she said, and the hallway was clear of boxes and the smell of kerosene.
After learning of the New Year’s Day blaze, Bousson rushed to Murphys that night and found defendant and the children at her father’s home, she said. The eldest Karlsen daughter, Erin, met her at the door and told her that her mother was “with baby Jesus.”
Bousson also remembered Erin telling her, “Mommy called for Daddy, and Daddy ignored her,” she testified.
Entering the house, Bousson confronted Karlsen and told him that she wanted to see her sister.
The defendant replied that she could not see Christina because she was “all burnt up.”
“And he told me she was a ‘crispy critter,’” Bousson said, drawing gasps from the courtroom.
“I had to walk away, because I was in disbelief,” she stated, under cross-examination by the defense. Later that night, she and Karlsen discussed plans for Christina’s body.
“I am fully functioning under stress, but I am not an over-reactive person,” said Bousson, who is a United States Air Force veteran. “I processed what he told me, and I did not overreact.”
The following day, Bousson visited the scene of the house fire on Pennsylvania Gulch road, she said.
“I went into the bathroom where she died, and that bathroom had not been burnt,” she said.
Bousson testified that she also found an ax leaning on an exterior wall near the boarded-up bathroom window.
“I wondered why he didn’t use the ax to get her out,” she said.
In the days following the fire, Bousson’s wishes to have her sister buried were not honored, she said, as Karlsen chose to cremate her body. When the family laid her to rest, the defendant was not present, as he had already resettled in his native New York.
However, Bousson continued to visit Karlsen and the children at their new home.
“I wanted them to know their mom through me,” she said.
During a visit in 1993, she recalled a comment Karlsen made to her after she mentioned that his barn looked like it had a lot of mice.
“That’s how an arsonist gets a way with a fire,” Bousson said he told her. “You douse a rat in kerosene, and it always runs home.”