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John Edward SANSING





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 24, 1998
Date of birth: February 11, 1967
Victim profile: Trudy Calibrese
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on September 30, 1999

Supreme Court of Arizona




Date of Birth: February 11, 1967
Defendant: Caucasian
Victim: Caucasian

Date of Offense: February 24, 1998

On February 24, 1998 the defendant called the Living Springs Assembly of God Church and requested a food box.

Later that afternoon, the victim, Trudy Calibrese, arrived at the home with the food box. Once inside, the defendant grabbed her from behind and dropped her to the floor. The victim was then tied up and hit over the head with a broom stick.

The defendant took her car keys, went outside and moved the victim's car to another location. He returned to the home and took the victim to the bedroom where he sexually assaulted her.

The defendant then stabbed the victim and left her in the bedroom while he and his wife, the co-defendant, slept in the living room.

The defendant woke up in the middle of the night and took the victim's body to the back yard where he hid it between a shed and a wall. The defendant's actions were conducted while his four children were in the home. 

    Presiding Judge: Ronald S. Reinstein
    Prosecutor: William Culbertson
    Defense Attorney: Emmet Ronan
    Start of Trial: Guilty Plea, September 18, 1998
    Sentencing: September 30, 1999

Aggravating Circumstances:
    Pecuniary gain under A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(5)
    Cruel, heinous or depraved under A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(6)

Mitigating Circumstances:
    Drug use causing impaired capacity
    Difficult childhood
    Acceptance of responsibility for the crimes
    Lack of education
    Love and support of his family

State v. Sansing, 200 Ariz. 347, 26 P.3d 1118 (2001).



State v. (John Edward) Sansing, 206 Ariz. 232, 77 P.3d 30 (Sept. 24, 2003)


Sansing was convicted in Superior Court (Maricopa) of first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and sexual assault, and was sentenced to death for raping and killing a volunteer worker from the Living Springs Church who had come to his home to deliver food.  On direct appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed all convictions and the death sentence, despite the fact that it struck the (F)(5) aggravator - pecuniary gain.  See 200 Ariz. 347, 26 P.3d 1118 (2001).  While Sansing was awaiting the direct appeal mandate to issue, the United States Supreme Court decided Ring II.  This supplemental opinion performs the Ring harmless error analysis on Sansing’s death sentence.



Cruelty  – Upheld
Mental:  Upheld.  It took Sansing fifteen minutes to initially attack the victim, bind her and club her into unconsciousness.  While being bound, the victim pleaded, “Lord, please help me” and “I don't want to die, but if this is the way you want me to come home, I am ready.”  He then dragged her into the bedroom and sexually assaulted her while her arms and legs were bound.  Sansing’s wife, who was present all along, heard the victim and Sansing speaking during the rape.  The rape satisfied this element, also.

Physical:  Upheld.  The victim died of three stab wounds to the abdomen, each of which were not immediately fatal.  It would have taken several minutes for the victim to bleed to death.  Moreover, the wound patterns were consistent with twisting the knife inside the victim, and Sansing’s wife testified that she saw Sansing “grind” the knife into the victim.  The medical examiner testified that the stab wounds would have caused pain.  Also, the victim’s head wound from the initial clubbing was “substantial” and resulted in a “tremendous amount of bleeding” and would have caused pain.  The rape satisfied this element, also.

“The evidence of the rape independently establishe[d] both mental and physical suffering.”

Heinous or Depraved  Upheld
Helplessness:  Upheld.  Sansing admitted to grabbing the victim, kneeing her in the back, and binding her wrists and ankles with electrical cords.  He then tied her wrists and ankles together.  No reasonable jury would have failed to find that the victim was helpless to defend herself. 

Gratuitous Violence: Upheld.  Stipulated and uncontroverted facts established that Sansing struck the victim on the head with a club using enough force to break the club into two pieces and lacerate the victim’s scalp.  He later dragged her into his bedroom and raped her while her arms and legs were bound.  At some point he blindfolded her, gagged her with a sock in her mouth, and stabbed her in the abdomen three times.  Sansing’s wife observed Sansing “grind” the knife into the victim’s abdomen. The victim was also found with ligature marks around her neck.  There was swelling and bruising on her forehead and left orbital region.  Her face and lips were swollen and her frenulum was severed, which was attributed by the medical examiner to blunt force trauma to the mouth.  In all, the “rape, facial wounds, neck ligatures, gagging, blind-folding, and grinding of the knife constitute violence beyond that necessary to kill” beyond a reasonable doubt.


(G)(1) (Significant ImpairmenT) - NOT FOUND.  Sansing presented no expert testimony to support his assertion that his use of cocaine impaired his ability to control his physical behavior during the killing.  Furthermore, Sansing took steps shortly after the murder to hide the body and the victim’s truck so as to avoid detection, and he lied to the victim’s pastor when he called Sansing inquiring after the victim; thereby negating his claim that intoxication overwhelmed his ability to control his physical behavior.

(G)(5) (AGE) – NOT FOUND.  No reasonable jury would have applied this factor.  Sansing was 31 at the time of the offense.  He was a married man with four children.

Drug Use:  While Sansing’s drug impairment qualified as a non-statutory mitigator, because Sansing failed to provide any expert testimony as to how his drug use was connected to his inability to control himself on the day of the murder, no reasonable jury would have given this factor more than minimal weight.

Troubled Childhood: While there was evidence that Sansing’s parents divorced when he was young and that he had “basically no relationship with his biological father,” and that he did not complete high school and achieved poor grades, there was no causal link between these circumstances and the crime.  Therefore, a reasonable jury could have accorded those two factors only minimal weight.

No Future Danger: Given the “shocking circumstances of this crime,” no reasonable jury could have given more than minimal weight to Sansing’s argument that he presents no future threat.

JUDGMENT:  Death Sentence Affirmed.


John Edward Sansing



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