A jury of seven women and five men found Karl Karlsen guilty Monday morning of first-degree murder by arson in the death of his wife, Christina.

Two special allegations against Karlsen, that he committed the murder for financial gain and that he had a previous murder conviction in the death of his son Levi, were found to be true. 

Members of the audience gasped when the verdict was read. Karlsen did not show any emotion.

He will be sentenced on March 17. He faces a sentence of life without parole. His attorney, Richard Esquivel, said Karlsen will appeal the conviction.

Before going into the courtroom to hear the verdict, members of Christina Karlsen’s family gathered in a group hug. 

Christina's mother, Arlene Meltzer, said to family members after the verdict, "Three years is a long time to stand firm." She has attended most of the hearings leading up to the trial, which was postponed several times.

Erin De Roche, Christina and Karl's daughter, said, "I'm just happy."

Christina's sister Colette Bousson said, "It's a long battle. It should have taken effect in 1991."

Karlsen's brother, Mike, said. "I'm just glad it's over. It's done, finally. And I hope justice is served."

The jury deliberated for more than seven hours, beginning Friday morning and concluding Monday morning at 10 a.m. When they emerged from a rear door at the Calaveras County Superior Court, none of the individuals looked at Karl Karlsen.

“You’ve done a very important civic duty in this case, I must thank you,” said Judge Thomas A. Smith. 

Smith referred the case to the Calaveras County Probation Office to prepare Karl Karlsen’s sentencing report. 

The court was filled with more than 30 people. Many were relatives, though some spectators, employees of the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office and cameramen packed the seats at the opposite side of the room from Karl Karlsen. 

The trial in the 1991 death of Christina Karlsen began on Jan. 8. The prosecution, led by Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook, questioned approximately 35 witnesses, including members of Karl Karlsen’s and Christina Alexander Karlsen’s family, fire investigators and representatives of State Farm Insurance.

Karlsen pleaded guilty to second degree murder in 2013 as a result of Levi’s death in 2008. Karl Karlsen had taken out a $700,000 life insurance policy on Levi Karlsen in the weeks before Levi was found crushed under a car he was working on at Karl Karlsen’s farm.

Karlsen was accused of intentionally igniting a house fire in his family home at 4060 Pennsylvania Gulch Road in Murphys and killing his wife Christina to collect on a $200,000 insurance policy he took out on her 19 days before her death.

The prosecution said kerosene was spilled on top of kerosene-soaked carpet just before the fire, which accelerated the intensity of the blaze. They questioned many of his associates about his apparently emotionless demeanor after the blaze and said he moved back to Romulus, New York, days after his wife’s death. They played over five hours of audio recording of Karlsen, made surreptitiously by investigative officials and a 2014 interview with Calaveras County officials. They played a nine-hour video recording of Karlsen in 2012 prior to his arrest, where he spoke at length about Christina Karlsen’s death, Levi’s death and his personal life.

After the verdict was announced, Esquivel said he felt Karl Karlsen was prejudiced by the 29 years between the crime and the prosecution.

“We were deprived of our ability to look at the investigation,” he said. 

Yook was not immediately available for comment. 

Karlsen’s prosecution in Calaveras County came after his arrest, plea and incarceration in New York. 

Karlsen was sentenced to 15 years to life for the death of Levi. He was admitted to the New York prison system on Dec. 23, 2013 and is on record as an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. His earliest release date is Nov. 23, 2027 and a parole hearing in July 2027.

A representative of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said Karl Karlsen would serve the duration of his sentence in New York before he would be transferred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to serve out a new sentence in the Christina Karlsen murder. 

 

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

 

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