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Karlsen trial draws to a close

From the Calaveras Enterprise:

The prosecution and the defense have rested their cases in the trial of New York native Karl Karlsen.

Following the prosecution’s conclusion on Tuesday, Public Defender Richard Esquivel made a motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office failed to establish that his client intentionally started the 1991 house fire in Murphys and left his wife to die in the bathroom.

“I think there is more than enough evidence to support a conviction,” Judge Thomas A. Smith replied, denying the motion.

The visiting judge from El Dorado County also denied a pending due process motion submitted by Kalsen’s previous attorney in 2017, despite Esquivel’s argument that much of the evidence in the case was reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office in 1991 and subsequently destroyed.

Esquivel added that some witnesses had died in the almost 30 years since the fire and that the scene at Pennsylvania Gulch road where the Karlsen home once stood was never inspected by the defense.

“The only thing that changed was Levi,” Esquivel stated, referring to Karlsen’s 2013 murder conviction in the death of his 23-year-old son.

During the past two weeks of proceedings, the prosecution leaned heavily on Levi’s death in Romulus, New York, and the circumstances surrounding it, presenting a nine-hour-long video of the defendant’s interrogation regarding his son’s murder.

Through that footage, in which Karlsen twice changes his story and details a number of fire incidents in his life, the prosecution sought to establish a pattern of arson and murder for monetary gain, as well as the ability of the defendant to lie indescriminately.

A parade of character witnesses cast a pall over the family life of the Karlsens prior to Christina Karlsen’s death.

Karl Karlsen’s eldest daughter, Erin DeRoche, testified that her father routinely abused Levi throughout his childhood, and friends and family recalled Christina’s timid demeanor around her husband.

Video footage from the scene and testimonies from first responders established the presence of a pick tool near the boarded-up bathroom window during the fire.

In his taped 2014 interview with the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office, Karlsen, a former volunteer firefighter, states that he never thought to use the tool in his alleged attempt to save Christina.

“I was probably blind to it or didn’t see it,” he says.

Though generally consistent with his story of what happened during the fire, timeline discrepancies in the events leading up to the blaze pepper Karlsen’s conversations with investigators and other witnesses.

Perhaps most notably, the defendant denies any memory of his closest neighbor, Vic Lyons', home, which he bypassed en route for help.

During the trial, Lyons' daughter Lynn Sanders testified that Karlsen not only knew of Lyons and his house just a few hundred feet away, but also knew her father would not be home during the inferno.

In presenting their case, the defense took aim at forensic electrical engineer Kenneth Buske’s testimony that the fire was intentionally ignited.

Buske, who was hired by State Farm in 1991 to determine the cause of the fire, was recalled by the defense for further questioning.

When asked if the fact that the scene was unprotected and overhauled by fire personnel in the month prior to his inspection altered his opinion, Buske replied that it did not.

The only new witness called by the defense was certified fire origin and cause investigator John Miller, who was retained to review Buske’s report and testimony.

Based on the absence of preserved evidence and his own lack of qualifications as an engineer, Miller stated that he could not confirm or refute Buske’s findings that there was a horseshoe-shaped pour of kerosene moments before the fire, and that the blaze was ignited by the application of open flame.


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