Decades after Christina Karlsen died in house fire, case reopened: Part 9

Christina Karlsen’s husband, Karl, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of their son, Levi, in New York. More than 20 years after Christina died, Karl was charged with her murder.
6:47 | 06/06/20

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Transcript for Decades after Christina Karlsen died in house fire, case reopened: Part 9
Learn more at We were never allowed to talk about our mother. But Levi and I would talk about it a lot -- about what he remembered, about what I remembered, and about how things just didn't add up. A year or two before Levi moved out, Levi and I told our father that we knew that he had murdered our mother. Levi was around 17 years old, and Karl had heard that Levi was telling people that Karl had killed his mother. He was arguing with our father and just blurted it out. I remember is Karl just saying, why would you say that I killed your mother? What are the people going to think? Levi, god love him, he had a steel spine, so he did not back down, and so that only infuriated by father further and it resulted in a fistfight in the kitchen. After he was jailed, I went to go visit him. He wanted to be able to give me a hug or something, and he was very pissed off that he was in this box, and he was trying to convince me he never would have killed our brother, never would have killed our mom. And I had just listened to it for a little bit and I stopped him and I looked at him and I was like, "I know that you did this and I know that you killed my mother." And he paused. And he just completely calmed down. He looked at me. He smiled like a Cheshire cat and said, it's been 22 years. They haven't caught me yet, and they're not going to. After he was arrested, I was involved as much as I could. I followed every news article. And I was excited. I wanted that thing to go to trial, because there was no way he was going to walk off that thing. There was no trial in Levi's case. After insurance fraud was dropped as a charge, Karlsen pleaded guilty. Karlsen admitted to killing his son. It was a huge relief to know that we weren't going to have to go through a trial. Carl ultimately pleaded to second-degree murder. Karl's image is super important. I felt that in the New York case, when he saw the witness list, including his own children testifying against him, I think he thought he was going to look bad. That was his cowardly way out of not doing that trial. That was him in control again. As a part of his plea deal, Karlsen had to stand up in court and tell the judge exactly what he had done to his son, and in this version of the story, he tells the court something more horrifying than we ever thought He admits that he pushes the truck on to his son. He jacked it up on a wobbly jack knowing that it was life threatening for someone to be underneath it and that Levi was still alive when he left. He left his son Levi alive, crushed under that truck. And walked away. It was devastating for me to have my dad admit that. It wasn't just the loss of my brother. With that one statement it was the loss of my father, too. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in the New York state prison system. He showed no remorse today. It was like it was a game, and it wasn't a game. It was people's lives. I didn't like the sentence at all. Was my nephew worth only 15 years? Some in the Karlsen family say there's more work to be done. Not here, but in California. Then there would be a turn. Authorities decided to re-open the investigation into Christina Karlsen's death in California back in 1991. For all these years I've literally thought the man got away with murder and there was nothing I could do. And the hard part is you never forget. I think it really was the media exposure in combination with the New York state police pushing California. And of course the family. My aunt, god love he -- my aunt Collette was on them like white on rice to make sure this happened. I definitely ramped up my activities to get their attention that, you know, we're still out here, still waiting for justice. The authorities in California start digging into the case, and they unearth evidence that had long been forgotten. You start to hear about all of these former figures that were at the forefront in 1991 getting contacted again. So, I pick up the phone and I'm totally surprised to hear about this communication that's come back. The d.a.'s office in calaveras county contacted me and says, do you know anything about a fire that happened in 1991? And I go, yes, they said, do you know where the records are? All these years later, that California fire investigator still had those two boxes of evidence sitting in his basement, and he turned them over to the D.A. This evening a brand-new development in the "20/20" exclusive you saw here first. The D.A. There suddenly announces that they're charging Karl Karlsen in this death of his first wife, Christina. I was very surprised when California's case went forward that many case is 29 years old. I knew the witness and evidence were going to be scrutinized. I was very eager to see California's trial play out. We as a family needed to see it I submit to you that he built Christina a coffin and trapped her in there. Christina took her last breath trapped in this coffin. It becomes more unbelievable with every development. Nobody could have seen where this was going. Everybody in the courtroom sucked in their breath. They were surprised.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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