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Calaveras County jury finds Karlsen guilty of first degree murder

From the Calaveras Enterprise:

Twenty-nine years after the fact, New York native Karl Karlsen, 59, has been found guilty of murdering his wife by setting fire to the home they once shared with their three young children in Murphys.

A jury of 12 Calaveras County citizens delivered their verdict today after a 13-day-long trial and roughly eight hours of deliberation.

Family members of Karlsen and the victim, Christina Karlsen, shared tearful embraces after the verdict was read.

“My goodness,” Christina’s mother, Arlene Meltzer, said as she hugged a loved one. "Thirty long years is a long time to stand firm."

Christina is the second relative the defendant has been convicted of killing.

In 2013, he pleaded guilty in a Seneca County, New York court to murdering his 23-year-old son Levi Karlsen, who survived the Murphys fire only to be crushed by a jacked-up truck under which his father intentionally lured him.

In 1991, Christina died of smoke inhalation, trapped in the bathroom of a Murphys home by a boarded-up window.

Though thousands of miles and 17 years apart, the two murders bear chilling similarities, including insurance policies taken out on the victims’ lives within a few weeks of their deaths.

According to the prosecution, Karl Karlsen has reaped more than $1 million in insurance payouts during his lifetime from untimely deaths and destructive fires.

After Christina’s death, he received over $200,000 from State Farm Insurance and bought a home in rural Upstate New York. After Levi’s death, he received $700,000.

While serving a sentence of 15 years to life in a New York prison, the defendant was extradited to Calaveras County to face charges for his wife’s murder. He has been held in the county jail since 2016.

Karlsen will be sentenced on March 17.

Attorneys and family members react

Karl Karlsen’s brother Mike Karlsen, who testified for the prosecution during the trial, released the following statement to the Enterprise on Feb. 4:

“I feel comfortable in saying that the Karlsen Family of New York is glad this case has finally come to an end. We are hopeful that this brings some sense of closure for not only our family but also for the Alexander family of California. Collectively, we have all been shocked and saddened by the tragic events that my brother Karl has been involved with. For many years, we have asked questions and sought answers and tried to understand these tragedies. Now, I hope we can all find a sense of peace as we try to accept the verdict this jury has returned and trust that it delivers overdue justice.”

He continues, “Clearly there are no winners. … (A)ll families impacted by these events have suffered and will forever carry the scars left behind. We hope and pray that time will help to ease the pain and allow all of us to move forward with our heads held up high. As a family, we will never forget the ways our lives were impacted by Christina and Levi, and I’m sure that their memories will not fade away.”

Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook, who prosecuted the case, gave the following statement regarding the verdict:

“Christina’s family has waited a long time for this day. They have been patient beyond measure, and we are pleased that justice was served in Court today. We believed in our case and are grateful to the jury members for their time, attention, and verdict of guilt.”

Karlsen’s attorney, Richard Esquivel, told the Enterprise on Feb. 4 that he intends to appeal his client’s conviction after sentencing.

“(With) the playing of 8.5 hours of a New York interview, most of which had nothing to do with this case, I have a good feeling that will be a potential reason for sending it back. I would love to have a second crack at this,” he said.

The Public Defender said that, since his recent move from Fresno to San Andreas, he has represented two murderers who he believes did not receive a fair trial.

“It kind of looks like I’m saying that every case that I defend as a murder case is absolutely not guilty⁠—I’m not saying that. … Evidence has not proven in either case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get a jury to understand what ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ means.”

Regarding the Karlsen verdict, he said, “I think it’s 12 people, and they decided based on the evidence that they could find (Karlsen) guilty. My problem has been all along that the defense has had no opportunity to examine the evidence or conduct experiments. … How do we get a fair trial when the evidence the DA is relying on is 29 years old? … These things that were rejected (by the prosecution) 29 years ago, that’s the issue that we had. The jury thought it was enough. I can’t fault them for that.”


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