Karl Karlsen murder trial Day 1

Karl Karlsen, center, sits with his defense attorneys Richard Esquivel, left, and Leigh Fleming.

A 2014 incarcerated interview with Karl Karlsen rose to a crescendo when Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office Investigator Mike Whitney accused him outright of starting the 1991 Murphys house fire which killed Christina Karlsen, Karl’s wife. 

“There’s nothing else that makes any sense than you did that fire,” Whitney said.

“[Expletive] that,” he said moments later, questioning why Karlsen did not enter the home at any cost to rescue her. “Even if you drag your dead ass wife out of there.”

Whitney was joined by a New York state investigator and Calaveras County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stone. Their voices rose to a chorus of accusations: that he deliberately set the fire in freshly poured kerosene and had lied about his culpability to disguise a $200,000 life insurance scheme.

“I don’t think you’re telling 5 percent of the truth,” Whitney said. “The rest of it is all jacked up bullshit.”

“I did not kill my wife,” Karlsen said, later adding, “I have nothing to hide. What am I gaining? Nothing.” 

The investigators told Karlsen his rationale lacked substance. If he loved his wife so much, they said, why choose to leave her behind?

“You damn sure should have tried more than you did,” Whitney said. “The reality is you ended up getting paid.” 

Karlsen responded, “I’m not proud of getting money for my wife’s death.” 

By the end of the interview, Karlsen did not budge.

Karlsen’s attorney, Richard Esquivel, asserted that throughout the interview, his client was consistent in his denials. He asked Whitney whether he thought it was fair that the investigators characterized themselves as stronger, more intelligent and courageous foils to Karlsen.

“I was accusing him for sure. I was not accusing him of being a coward,” Whitney said. 

Esquivel also questioned why Whitney contacted Ken Buske, a fire investigator hired by State Farm Insurance to determine the origin and cause of the fire, for additional carpet flammability testing instead of sending the testing to a government-run Department of Justice laboratory. 

During the interview, Whitney characterized The Buske report as damning. 

“His finding was pretty clear that there was a pretty good size kerosene spill,” he told Karlsen. “The suggestion is the fire started because you started it.” 

“There was no way,” Karl Karlsen responded, again mentioning the hallways where the fire began was filled with boxes and lined on the ground with cardboard. “It was full of boxes all day.”

“The sequence of events really sucks for you,” Whitney said. 

“Oh, I agree,” Karlsen responded. 

The interview was approximately six-and-half-hours, but it was edited down to four hours as trial evidence. It took place just following Karlsen’s guilty plea to second degree murder in the 2008 death of his son Levi and before murder charges were brought against hm in the Calaveras County Superior Court for the death of his wife.

While the interview played, Christina Karlsen’s sister Colette Bousson sat beside their mother, Arlene Meltzer, and stared ahead. 

Whitney said he began his investigation in the summer of 2013. 


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


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