Death Row Diaries: Church volunteer bringing food to family is killed in 1998

Posted at 9:35 AM, Jan 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-02 14:48:23-05

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories, including this one where a man kills a church volunteer who came to his home to bring him food.


Date of Birth: February 11, 1967
Sentenced: September 30, 1999

The Murder:

On February 24, 1998, John Sansing called the Living Springs Church requesting a food box. He gave the church his name and address and waited for his victim to come to his home.

In the meantime, he called his wife telling her that he had smoked some crack cocaine but was saving the rest to smoke with her when she returned home from work. He also told her he had arranged for a food box to be delivered by a local church. 

When she returned home, Sansing informed her of his plan to rob the church volunteer when they arrived so that they could buy more drugs. 

Church volunteer Trudy Calabrese came to the home just after 4 p.m. that afternoon, carrying two food boxes for the family. She chatted with the family as Sansing signed for the food. Before she was able to leave, Sansing threw her to the floor and with the help of his wife, he bound her arms as the children watched.

"I don't want to die, but if this is the way you want me to come home, I am ready"

Calabrese cried out, "Lord, please help me," and she pleaded with the children to contact police, but Sansing instructed the children to go watch television in another room. The children later testified that they heard Calabrese say, "I don't want to die, but if this is the way you want me to come home, I am ready."  

Sansing used a club to knock Calabrese unconscious, striking her hard enough to break the club in two. He then dragged her into a bedroom where she was sexually assaulted. Sansing's wife later said she heard Sansing and his victim talking. He then stabbed her several times and covered her head with plastic bags, securing them with a necktie and cords. 

Sansing removed her jewelry and made arrangements to trade the jewelry for drugs. He left her body in the bedroom covered with laundry as he went to trade for drugs.

Later that night Sansing got a call from the church pastor who was looking for the victim. Sansing gave him a false address and lied, telling the pastor that she never came to the home.

He then concealed her body in his backyard, squeezing it between a shed and the fence and covering her with a carpet and other debris.

The Search:

The next day, searchers found Calabrese's truck in a nearby parking lot (Sansing had moved it there the night before). Inside they found a piece of paper with Sansing's name and correct address on it. Police went to the home and found the body in the backyard.

Sansing was found at his sister's home and was arrested without resistance.

Court Quotes and Apologies:

”I'm here to say I'm willing to take anything that comes to me"

During his court proceedings Sansing offered an apology to the Calabrese family saying," If I had one wish in the world that would be to bring your wife back, but I can't do miracles...all I can do is give myself to the Lord...hope I get to live..that's all up to the judge and to you...hope I get to live...I'm here to say I'm willing to take anything that comes to me."

Sansing entered a guilty plea on September 18, 1998, and before sentencing, the judge had these words to described Calabrese, "She was a Good Samaritan who took great joy in helping people in need." He also called her a person who, "stood out like a shining light, as a true Samaritan who kept her faith in God to the end."

Sansing remains on Arizona's death row, and his case was accepted by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013.