Melissa Huckaby, 28, a Sunday school teacher of Tracy in California, has been charged with raping and murdering eight-year-old Sandra Cantu. The body of the mangled child was found stuffed in a suit case ten days after her disappearance. The crime has shaken the area like never before.
Sandra Cantu, a second-grader at Jacobson Elementary School in Tracy, was reported missing from the Orchard Mobile Home Estates shortly before 8 p.m. on March 27. Later farm workers reported finding a strange suitcase in an irrigation pond about two miles north of where the girl was last seen.
It was a reporter with a local newspaper who tracked down Huckaby after she heard rumours the suitcase belonged to the Huckaby family. The woman was trapped in a web of lies, and in no time police zeroed in on her as the culprit. The dead girl actually happened to be a playmate of Melissa's daughter.
An autopsy has been completed, but no cause of death has been released. The possible motives behind the horrid crime are not clear either.
Shackled at the waist and ankles, Huckaby — wearing the red prison suit assigned to high-risk inmates — looked worn and cried through most of her arraignment in a San Joaquin County courtroom Tuesday. She did not enter a plea, and the only word she uttered was ``yes,'' when asked if she wanted Ellen Schwarzenberg, a San Joaquin County deputy public defender who represented her in a previous case, to serve as her attorney.
Schwarzenberg later said she asked that Huckaby, a divorced single mother of a 5-year-old girl, be evaluated to determine whether she should be given psychotropic medications.
Superior Court Judge Richard Vlavianos ordered Huckaby to return to court on April 24 for further arraignment before Judge Terrance Van Oss.
Huckaby is being held at San Joaquin County Jail without bail and has refused all media requests for interviews.
She seems to have had a troubled background before she volunteered as a Sunday school teacher at her grandfather's Clover Road Baptist Church in Tracy. On Nov. 28, 2006, in a case in Southern California, where Huckaby was raised, Huckaby pleaded no contest to one count of petty theft, was ordered to pay $1,652 in fines and restitution and was sentenced to serve 13 days in jail or perform 13 days of work for the California Department of Transportation. She was also placed on three years probation and ordered to stay away from all Mervyn's stores.
Last November, she pleaded no contest in San Joaquin County to a petty theft with a prior charge and was scheduled to return on Friday for the results of a mental health evaluation. She and her daughter had been living with her grandparents for about the past year in a Tracy mobile home park.