Karl Karlsen’s story took a sharp turn several hours into his 2012 interview with Seneca County, New York investigators, with an admission that he left his deceased son, Levi Karlsen, pinned under a truck while he attended a funeral out of town.
The Romulus, New York native, who is now on trial for the alleged murder of his wife, Christina Karlsen, in a 1991 Murphys house fire, changed his tune after hours of accusations and suggested scenarios from investigators.
“I did not kill Levi,” Karl Karlsen says in the video footage presented by the prosecution. “I couldn’t have. But he was dead when I walked in.”
The defendant cries and is comforted by investigators as he describes his shock when he found Levi.
“It’s good to finally get it out,” he says. “I panicked.”
However, Karlsen quickly recovers his conversational demeanor when asked further questions about the incident.
“A couple of hours ago, you were telling us he was alive when you left,” an investigator says.
“Well… Yeah, you’re right,” Karlsen replies.
He goes on to describe Levi’s troubled childhood: stealing from his sister, “false” reports made to Child Protective Services, hanging out with a Goth crowd and assumed drug use –”I’m not stupid,” he says. As a young adult, Levi became a father and divorced his wife, had financial problems and had to be bailed out of jail multiple times.
“He was different,” Karlsen states, but he insists repeatedly that his son’s life was in a major upswing when he died at 23 years old in 2008. “I was proud of him.”
The defendant continues to deny allegations that he pushed the car onto Levi.
“There’s nothing that can justify killing your wife, kids, uncles,” Karlsen states.
“I never said you killed your wife,” the investigator responds. “Did you?”
“No,” the defendant repeats several times. “I’ve been through that. … She was an angel.”
When asked if Levi ever accused him of murdering Christina, Karlsen adamantly denies it.
The investigators continue to press Karlsen for hours, asking him at one point if he is aware of his rights to a lawyer and to leave the room. The defendant responds that he is aware, and that he has been treated well.
He goes on to detail his own strict upbringing and his multitude of pain medications after back surgeries, stating that he was “stoned” for several years, including at the time of Levi’s death.
“I’m not gonna say it was the drugs,” he states. “I’m not gonna say it.”
The jury will continue to view footage of the extensive interview in the coming days.
Karlsen ultimately pleaded guilty to the murder of his son in 2013 and was sentenced to 15 years-to-life in prison.
The defendant’s sister-in-law Jacqueline Karlsen today testified that she often saw Karl Karlsen “knuckle” Levi on the head when he was 3 or 4 years old.
“He would make a face as if to indicate pain, but he did not cry, as if he was afraid to cry,” she said.
She also stated that Christina was a “different person” when her husband was around, “nervous” and “anxious.”
When she arrived in Murphys in the days after the fire to comfort the Karlsen children, she observed a “superficial abrasion” on Karlsen’s forehead as his only visible injury.
“He seemed very calm, like nothing had happened,” she said.
A longtime nurse with emergency room experience, Jacqueline Karlsen testified that she had never seen anyone who had just lost a loved one with such a “calm,” “flat affect.”
She stated that the defendant told her the fire was ignited by the home’s dryer.
“I cannot believe someone could have so much bad luck,” she recalled being told by Karl Karlsen.
In the years following Levi’s death, Jacqueline Karlsen grew suspicious.
Discrepancies in Karl Karlsen’s story about how the fire started, his behavior following the tragedy and a phone call from Christina shortly before her death fueled her concerns, she said.
Jacqueline Karlsen was not permitted to testify as to the content of that phone call, but she stated, “(Christina) was afraid to die in a fire.”
Christina’s father, Art Alexander, also testified today. He recalled that when his son-in-law moved his family to Murphys to work at Art Sheet Metal, Alexander made him a 10% partner in the business.
He also provided health and liability insurance, he said.
A review of his checkbook ledger showed a final payment to Karl Karlsen on Dec. 28, 1990, for a week’s worth of work and insurance coverage. At the beginning of that month, he also paid Karlsen a Christmas bonus.
“He was never not paid,” Alexander stated.
Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook asked Alexander why he preserved records of his payments to Karlsen for decades.
After hesitating to give an answer, he replied, “You’re going to stop me if I say something wrong, right?”
Many in the courtroom laughed at his response, including Karlsen and his attorney, Richard Esquivel. Alexander did not testify as to why he kept the ledger.
In her testimony, daughter of the Karlsens’ closest neighbor Lynn Sanders stated that the defendant was aware that her father, Vic Lyons, would not be home on New Year’s Day, 1991.
Sanders said Karlsen and Alexander would often come in for lunch at the Murphys Hotel, where she worked, and that the defendant often asked about her father.
“I thought he was going to rob the house or something because he was very interested in what my dad was doing,” she said. “I remember telling him about my dad being gone New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. He seemed very interested by that.”