A former Tuolumne Calaveras Ranger Unit fire investigator shelved two legal boxes stuffed with video footage, an audio recording and documents related to the 1991 Murphys house fire in his basement for 15 years, harboring a suspicion he may have to one day testify to the cause of the blaze.
“I was concerned about the fire itself and the potential of having to testify in the future,” said Carl Kent on Tuesday morning in Calaveras County Superior Court, following a two-hour audio recording of a Feb. 4, 1991 phone call with Karl Karlsen, who is accused of killing his wife Christina to claim a $200,000 life insurance policy in her name.
Kent said he saved the documents when he changed jobs in 1997 and turned them over to the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office in 2012, around the same time as an impending trial against Karlsen for the murder of his son, Levi, in Seneca County, New York. Karlsen ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25-years-to-life before the investigation was reopened into Christina Karlsen’s death in 2014.
Kent’s testimony revealed what has become a pattern in the trial: Karlsen relating the only first person narrative of the onset of the fire and investigative officials casting doubt on his claims.
“The ignition source is the thing that bothers me,” Kent said while on the phone call.
Earlier in the conversation, Karlsen defers from a complex evaluation of the cause. He said he made the call to inquire about the process of the investigation. He still had not been paid for the life insurance policy.
“The things happened the way they did,” Karlsen said.
Read more about the trial in Wednesday's Union Democrat.