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Arizona death row inmate charged with murder in 1991 Utah killing

By Jennifer Dobner

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - An Arizona death row inmate is facing a Utah murder charge after investigators used fingerprints found on Lego toys and DNA evidence to link him to a 23-year-old cold-case homicide, authorities said on Tuesday.

Lucille Johnson, 78, was last seen sweeping the porch of her Salt Lake City-area home on Feb. 1, 1991. She was found dead by her daughter the next day, her body battered and her bloodied face covered with a pillow.

Missing from the residence were a ring and necklace that Johnson always wore. Lego pieces found by the front door and scattered across the living room floor were collected and stored as case evidence.

Authorities finally linked the long-unsolved killing to Arizona inmate John Edward Sansing, according to charging documents filed last week in Salt Lake City district court.

Utah prosecutors charged Sansing, 47, with one count of first-degree felony murder in connection with Johnson’s death, although Arizona law enforcement officials could not immediately say on Tuesday whether he had been formally notified of the charge.

No attorney was listed for Sansing in Utah or Arizona records. 

Police in Salt Lake County reopened the case earlier this year after Sansing’s nephew contacted detectives to report that twice during arguments he had heard his uncle’s wife threaten to tell police that Sansing had killed an elderly Utah woman years ago, the agency said in a statement.

Sansing’s wife later confirmed to police her husband had told her about the incident in 1991, authorities said.

Testing of the Legos found nine latent fingerprints on the toys, including two from Sansing’s son, who police say would have been about 5 at the time of Johnson’s death. Police suspect Sansing left his son to play with the toys while he killed her. 

A DNA sample from Sansing also matched DNA found in fingernail scrapings taken from Johnson’s hand at the time of her death, court documents say.

Police said Sansing left Utah for Arizona in 1995. He is on death row following a 1999 conviction for murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault in connection with the death of Elizabeth Calabrese, 41.

Arizona media reports say Calabrese was delivering a charitable food donation to the Sansing home when she was clubbed, raped and killed. Her body was found hidden under cardboard in Sansing's backyard. 

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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