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Karlsen trial date vacated due to mental competency evaluation


A Calaveras County Superior Court judge vacated Karl Karlsen’s February trial date Thursday morning after his lawyer said he intended to file a motion questioning Karlsen’s mental competency to stand trial.

Karlsen, 56, emerged from jail and sat beside his lawyer, Scott Gross, of Sonora, after a nearly 30-minute closed discussion in Judge Thomas A. Smith’s chambers with Gross, District Attorney Barbara Yook and Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stone.

His hair neatly clipped down from a long ponytail, Karlsen leaned in the direction of Gross and muttered a few words before laughing.

“It’s just my voice, I lost my voice,”

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A Calaveras County Superior Court judge vacated Karl Karlsen’s February trial date Thursday morning after his lawyer said he intended to file a motion questioning Karlsen’s mental competency to stand trial.

Karlsen, 56, emerged from jail and sat beside his lawyer, Scott Gross, of Sonora, after a nearly 30-minute closed discussion in Judge Thomas A. Smith’s chambers with Gross, District Attorney Barbara Yook and Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stone.

His hair neatly clipped down from a long ponytail, Karlsen leaned in the direction of Gross and muttered a few words before laughing.

“It’s just my voice, I lost my voice,” Gross said.

Swiveling his chair backward, Karlsen shook his head and grumbled, “This is crazy. This is crazy.”

Karlsen has been accused of setting a fire at his Murphys home in 1991 that killed his wife, Christina Karlsen, and of collecting $200,000 in life insurance following her death. He previously received a sentence of 28 years to life in Seneca County, New York, after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, and committing insurance fraud to collect on an insurance policy he had submitted just days before the death of his son, Levi, who had been pinned under a truck at their family farm in 2008.

Smith opened the hearing to acknowledge that he would be granting a Dec. 29, 2017, defense motion to continue the trial pending the submission of a motion by Gross to evaluate Karlsen’s mental competency.

Gross said he would file a motion to “flush out that issue” as it pertained to Karlsen’s “mental impairment” and would schedule an evaluation with a doctor.

During the discussion, Karlsen sniffed audibly and appeared discomforted by the references to his mental competency.

“I’m not happy about it like everyone else, I think,” he said to Smith. Indicating Gross, he added, “I’m going to go on it like he suggests.”

Jury selection was originally slated for between Feb. 14 and 16 at the Calaveras County Superior Court with the trial set to begin the following week.

Smith originally suggested a new trial setting hearing to be scheduled after 120 days, and though Gross agreed, Karlsen vocally scoffed at the idea.

By Yook’s suggestion to check in on the development of the case, Smith granted an April 5 trial setting hearing at 11 a.m., a little less than 60 days later.

The hearing was originally set for rulings on a series of motions submitted by the defense to strike Karlsen’s foreign conviction from the record, to suppress a defendant’s statement, and to recuse the District Attorney from the case due to selective prosecution.

Smith only made one ruling on the pending motions, and said a statement Karlsen made to a “cell-mate” would not be excluded as evidence in the trial.

Initially, he said, the defense “did not have enough opportunity to investigate the claims made.” The defense should have enough time in about 60 days, he added, with the granting of the continuance, to contact an investigator in New York and investigate the claims.

An Attorney General’s Office lawyer was also at the hearing to be called on the recusal motion, but Smith delayed a ruling on the issue and said the motion hearing would be rescheduled at the April 5 trial setting conference.

A recusal motion on selective prosecution is a claim that a district attorney can not objectively prosecute a trial due to political reasons.

Smith also delayed a ruling on the foreign conviction motion, noting that Gross intended to file a supplemental document to the original motion.

During Karlsen’s previous hearing on Nov. 6, Smith delayed a ruling on a defense motion to dismiss the charges for violation of due process until after the trial was held.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.