Two-time convicted murderer Karl Karlsen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole today in a Calaveras County courtroom.
The Seneca Falls, N.Y., native was found guilty last month of murdering his wife, Christina Alexander Karlsen, in a Murphys house fire 29 years ago in order to cash in on her $200,000 life insurance policy.
Karl Karlsen, 59, will serve out the remainder of his 15-year-to-life sentence for the 2008 second-degree murder of his 23-year-old son Levi Karlsen in a New York State prison before being sent to a California state prison, when or if his prior sentence is completed.
The defendant, who wore a yellow inmate uniform and appeared largely unaffected by the proceedings, requested to be absent from the courtroom while victim impact statements were delivered. According to his attorney, Karlsen claimed to be suffering from a “low grade fever.”
Karlsen was permitted to remain in a holding cell as he heard the emotional statements of his family members.
Spectators in the courtroom included Christina Karlsen’s mother, sister and stepfather, as well as several jurors who served during the trial. Family members from New York were not present, but delivered statements through letters and video recordings.
“You have caused me to grieve and to hurt and to cry. I’ve carried this pain for over 30 years now,” Christina’s mother, Arlene Meltzer, told Karl Karlsen in her statement. “You, Karl, you walked away and left (Christina) to die. I will never see Levi again in this life. … I leave you in God’s hands. You need to be locked up for the rest of your life. “
Christina’s sister, Colette Bousson, recounted the day her “spirit was shattered permanently” in her impact statement.
“My sister, my best friend, was gone, but I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” she said, adding how her nieces and nephew, too, were taken away suddenly by Karlsen in his flight to New York just days after the house fire.
“Karl likes to kill,” Bousson said, asking the judge for the maximum sentence. “I truly believe that if Karl Karlsen ever gets out of prison, he will kill again.”
Karlsen’s brother Mike Karlsen also implored the judge to deliver the maximum sentence in his written statement, calling the defendant a dangerous sociopath.
“He is not capable of loving anyone but himself,” he wrote. “He did not love his family. He betrayed and destroyed them.”
Christina’s father, Art Alexander, chose not to deliver his statement in person.
“Nothing can ever take away the pain of losing a daughter to a most senseless act,” Alexander wrote. “(Christina was) beautiful, vibrant, happy and full of life. To this day, I miss her so much. … I cannot and will never forgive him. I wish Karl the same pain and heartbreak he inflicted on my entire family.”
In their submitted statements, Karlsen’s daughters detailed the trauma of losing their mother and spending the rest of their childhoods in a household where they were abused and treated as “servants” by their father and stepmother.
Both women recounted incidents of physical abuse and death threats from Karlsen, who they say choked them and dealt horrific beatings to their brother Levi, as well as the horses on the family farm. They said that they were coached by both parents regarding what to tell Child Protective Services after a complaint was filed.
“It was a Cinderella story with no prince charming, and help never came,” said Kati Karlsen Reynolds in a video recording that was over an hour long.
After growing up in perceived poverty and being forced to pay for essential items as a child, Reynolds recalled the shock she felt when she learned of the more than $1 million that her father had collected from the deaths of her mother, her brother, and his prized Belgian horses.
Another of many “surprises” that she learned from her father in more recent years was that she had a half-sibling in Canada, conceived by Karlsen with another woman before he married Christina.
Reynolds said the many years of trauma caused her to suffer from suicidal thoughts and seek expensive therapy.
“I will never be free from the damage inflicted,” she said. “I ask that you give me the comfort of knowing that my father will never be released from prison.”
Karlsen was ordered to be transported directly to a New York prison within the coming days.
He was also required by visiting El Dorado Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Smith to pay restitution, including almost 29 years of accumulated interest, to his children for the $200,000 he collected on their mother’s life. An additional $10,000 will go to those affected for counseling costs and other damages.
Judge Smith, who issued the maximum sentence permitted, told Karlsen that he would have given him an even heavier sentence if he was able.
“You are a coward,” Smith said. “You couldn’t even be here in court when the victims were giving their statements.”
Karlsen’s attorney, Public Defender Richard Esquivel, told the Enterprise he intends to submit an appeal of his client’s conviction “tomorrow.”
“The judge’s hands were tied. The reason Karl wasn’t there to listen to these victim impact statements is because he maintains his innocence,” Esquivel said.
Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook told the Enterprise that her office is “very pleased” with the judge’s order that Karlsen will have to serve his sentences consecutively.
“Christina’s family showed incredible strength in giving their victim impact statements, especially after the defendant left the courtroom,” Yook stated. “This has been a long journey and we are grateful to the jury and the Judge for delivering justice for Christina.”
Following the sentencing, Arlene Meltzer broke down into sobs but was later all smiles as she exited the courthouse, describing herself as a “happy mamma.”
“I feel absolutely awesome because I knew God was going to make this work,” she said. Meltzer also thanked “all the people who were kind” and supported her through the long judicial process.
In the future, she and her husband are continuing in their ministry studies and considering a move closer to Meltzer’s surviving daughter, Bousson.