Mother Charged with Murdering, Raping Daughter’s 8-Year-Old Friend

April 15, 2009 - 5:58 PM
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.

Melissa Huckaby, 28, cries in a Stockton, Calif., courtroom during her arraignment, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Huckaby was charged with murdering her daughter's friend, 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, in a gruesome crime that has shocked and terrified residents in Tracy, a city of about 78,000 people, 60 miles east of San Francisco. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, pool)

Stockton, Calif. (AP) - 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.
 
Police wouldn't give details about what they were looking for Tuesday. Sgt. Tony Sheneman said authorities don't believe anyone else is involved in Sandra's murder and search warrants were intended to gain evidence leading to prosecution.
 
Huckaby was arraigned Tuesday on 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. She cried as the judge read the charges, and did not enter a plea.
 
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 he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
 
The slaying aroused fear among parents in Tracy. Huckaby and Sandra lived five doors down from each other and Sandra was a close friend of Huckaby's daughter. Police are advising parents to report any information they may have on possible sexual assaults in the community.
 
"What we're asking is for the public, if they have any indication that any of their children may have had inappropriate contact with Miss Huckaby, to contact us," Sheneman told reporters Tuesday.
 
Sandra disappeared March 27. She was last seen on a surveillance camera skipping outside the mobile home park. A 10-day search ended on April 6, when farmworkers draining a nearby irrigation pond found the suitcase containing Sandra's body.
 
Huckaby's grandfather, Pastor Clifford Lawless, was interviewed the night Sandra's body was recovered, and police took computers and a phone from his home, where Huckaby also lived. Police haven't said what was seized from the church.
 
Huckaby told a reporter Friday the suitcase that contained Sandra's body was hers, but it had been stolen out of her driveway the day Sandra disappeared. Police arrested her later that night.
 
Police have not said how, why or where Sandra was killed, and the coroner's office has said autopsy results are pending.
 
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 contributed to this report.