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Karlsen murder trial set

A former Murphys man accused of killing his son to collect insurance money will stand trial this fall in Seneca County Court in New York.

Investigators are also still looking for parallels to the death of Karl Karlsen’s former wife, who died in a 1991 Murphys house fire.

Karlsen, 52, of Romulus, N.Y., faces two counts of second-degree murder — one for “depraved indifference” — and one count of second-degree insurance fraud. 

He was arrested on Nov. 23 on suspicion of second-degree murder in the death of his son, Levi Karlsen, 23, who died about four years earlier. Levi Karlsen was pinned under a truck he was working on at the family’s Seneca County farm.

The death was initially ruled an accident, but the Seneca County Sheriff’s Department reopened the case in March 2012 after learning a life insurance policy had been taken out on Levi Karlsen days before his death. Karl Karlsen was named as the beneficiary.

Jury selection will begin Oct. 25 and the trial will immediately follow. The court set aside a week for the trial.

Karlsen is also scheduled to appear in court this summer for motion hearings.

Defense attorney Lawrence Kasperek, of Rochester, said Wednesday he has not yet written motions for a May 28 court date but expects to file them by May 8. 

Suppression and Huntley hearings are calendared for July 2.

In a suppression hearing, a defendant moves to suppress evidence on the grounds it was unlawfully or improperly obtained.

In a Huntley hearing, the court reviews whether the defendant was read Miranda rights before making a statement to law enforcement and whether the defendant knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made the statement.

The Seneca County District Attorney’s Office offered Karlsen a plea deal but he rejected it, Kasperek said.

“The client maintains his innocence and will be challenging the charges here in Seneca County,” he said.

According to Kasperek, the deal stipulated that if Karlsen pleaded guilty to one count of homicide, it would have satisfied charges he could face in Christina Karlsen’s death.

If convicted of all charges, Karlsen could face 25 years to life in prison. 

The incident that killed Levi Karlsen was reported to 911 dispatchers the afternoon of Nov. 20, 2008, by his stepmother, Cindy Karlsen. Seneca County Sheriff’s deputies and South Seneca Ambulance personnel found him pinned under a truck in a barn next to the family home.

Karlsen told deputies his son was working under the vehicle, which was lifted with a jack, when he and his wife left to attend a funeral around noon.

Levi Karlsen was pronounced dead at Geneva General Hospital.

Karlsen apparently moved to New York shortly after his home on the 4600 block of Pennsylvania Gulch Road in Murphys caught fire on Jan. 1, 1991. 

Investigators at the time determined the fire was an accident. They concluded it started after 30-year-old Christina Karlsen accidentally spilled kerosene in the house where she and her family had lived about a year, Calaveras Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Hewitt said.

Karl Karlsen reportedly helped Levi and his two daughters, Erin and Kati, escape from the blaze but could not reach his wife of seven years, who, authorities said, was trapped in the bathroom.

An autopsy conducted before the woman’s cremation showed she died of smoke inhalation, Hewitt said.

Karlsen had purchased a life insurance policy on his wife shortly before her death, according to her father, Art Alexander, of Murphys. 

Alexander said a deputy interviewed him about Karlsen and the fire around a month ago.

When he learned the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office was going to reopen the investigation into the fire, he began making notes of why he has long been suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his daughter’s death.

Karl Karlsen’s abrupt move to New York after the fire, his failure to show up for a final interview with fire investigators, and his fight to claim proceeds from his wife’s life insurance policy spurred the suspicions, Alexander said.

Alexander also found it strange Karlsen lost valuable Belgian draft horses in a barn fire on the Seneca County farm before Levi Karlsen’s death. Alexander said Karlsen collected insurance money on the horses.

“It’s almost as hard going through it right now as it was when it originally happened,” Alexander said of his daughter’s death. “I’m not a vindictive person, but I don’t ever want to see that man on the streets again.”


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