Huckaby arraigned on murder, rape charges

April 15, 2009 5:07:24 AM PDT
Authorities are looking for more evidence against a 28-year-old Sunday school teacher who was tearfully arraigned on charges she kidnapped, raped and murdered an 8-year-old girl. Police on Tuesday searched for a second time the home where Melissa Huckaby lived just a few doors down from her daughter's playmate, Sandra Cantu, who was found slain in a suitcase April 6. Authorities also again searched Huckaby's grandfather's Clover Road Baptist Church in Tracy, a city of about 78,000 people 60 miles east of San Francisco.

Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman would not say why police returned to the church and home, which were also searched in the days after Sandra's body was found. But he said police are continuing to investigate Huckaby, who they believe acted alone.

Huckaby appeared in a San Joaquin County courtroom Tuesday for her arraignment in a red jumpsuit and shackles, trembling and crying as a judge read the charge: one count of murder with the special circumstances of rape with a foreign object, lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under 14 and murder in the course of a kidnapping.

The special circumstances mean Huckaby, if convicted, could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. District Attorney James Willett said Tuesday he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Sandra disappeared March 27, and was last seen on a surveillance camera skipping outside the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park.

A 10-day search by law enforcement and the community ended on April 6, when farmworkers draining an irrigation pond a few miles away from the mobile home complex found the suitcase containing Sandra's body.

Police have said Sandra was found wearing the same clothes she had on when she was last seen: a pink "Hello Kitty" T-shirt and black leggings. They have not said how, why or where she was killed, and the coroner's office has said autopsy results are pending.

The complaint said the murder happened "on or about" March 27, but gave no other details.

Huckaby was arrested Friday, hours after she told a Tracy Press reporter that the suitcase was hers but it had been stolen the day Sandra went missing.

Huckaby's family has described her as a loving mother who had a strong religious background and wouldn't hurt anyone. She lived with her grandparents.

Relatives visited Huckaby at San Joaquin County Jail on Monday night, where she had been under observation. That was the first time they'd seen her since her arrest.

Huckaby's father, Brian Lawless, said the family cried and prayed together during the visit.

"She's not getting much sleep but in spite of all that that she looks good," he said afterwards. "We're in shock ... The young lady I see on film, that's not my daughter."

A public memorial service is scheduled for Sandra in Tracy on Thursday.

Huckaby has been ordered to return to court on April 24, when she's expected to enter a plea.


Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

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