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 Sandra Cantu (9) R.I.P.

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Melinda
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PostSubject: Re: Sandra Cantu (9) R.I.P.   Thu May 13, 2010 7:34 am

Huckaby pleads guilty to Cantu murder
STOCKTON — Melissa Huckaby pleaded guilty Monday to kidnapping and murdering 8-year-old Sandra Cantu; in exchange, prosecutors took the death penalty off the table and dropped all other charges against her.

Huckaby could have received the death penalty had a jury convicted her of killing Sandra, whose body was found April 10, 2009, in a suitcase in a Tracy irrigation pond. Instead, Huckaby, 29, will spend the rest of her life in prison — without the possibility of parole — after she is sentenced June 14 in Stockton.

"Death is off the table," Prosecutor Thomas Testa said during Monday's hearing.

As part of the deal, the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office dropped two enhancements to the murder charge — lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, and rape by instrument — and one count of committing a sex crime against a child 10 years old or younger. Also dismissed were charges in two unrelated cases in which Huckaby was accused of drugging a Hayward man and another Tracy girl.

A gag order preventing parties from speaking about the case remains in place, but San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus said she would give serious thought to lifting it. Because of the order, much about the case — including grand jury transcripts, Sandra's autopsy report and other facts about the crime scene — has been sealed from public view.

Monday's proceeding was originally scheduled to be a routine appearance for Huckaby and her attorneys, Sam Behar and Michael Burt, to set a date for an evidence-suppression hearing.

Relatives of both Huckaby and Sandra were in the courtroom when the defendant, clad in a red jumpsuit, entered the surprise guilty plea. Also present were members of the Tracy Police Department, including Chief Janet Thiessen, who had found themselves thrust into the national spotlight because of the case.

Testa asked Lofthus to question Huckaby about her state of mind during the plea, citing previous erratic behavior in jail that included reportedly tried to harm herself. Testa said he did not want Huckaby to change her mind or later say she did not understand what she was doing.

Lofthus spoke to Huckaby, who answered each question clearly and without hesitation or much emotion.

"She seems fine to me," Lofthus said.

After the hearing, Sandra's relatives hugged each other outside the courtroom. They declined to comment.

Outside the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy, where both Sandra and Huckaby lived, residents learned about the guilty plea from reporters, but said they were not surprised about the case's outcome.

"I'm glad she did (plead guilty),
because she did do it," said resident Susan Alley, who lives between the Cantu and Huckaby homes.

Alley said the tragedy had brought residents closer together, and that she now talks to neighbors she didn't before.

Sandra was last seen alive on March 27, 2009, in the mobile home park. After a 10-day search, the second-grader's body was found in a black suitcase in an irrigation pond not far from her home.

At a brief news conference Monday at Jacobson Elementary School, where Sandra used to go, Principal Cindy Sasser said the school community hoped the guilty plea could bring peace to Sandra's family and friends.

"I think everyone anticipated this day would come," she said.
http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_15054621?source=most_viewed&nclick_check=1

Timeline~
# MARCH 27: Sandra Cantu is reported missing about 8 p.m.
# MARCH 28: Police say she is a missing person and a search begins.
# MARCH 29: Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of law enforcement officers comb the area.
# MARCH 30: The case becomes a national news story.
# APRIL 6: A caller alerts San Joaquin sheriff"s dispatchers to a suspicious item "” a large, black rolling suitcase "” in an agricultural pond. Police confirm Sandra"s body is inside. Later in the evening an ambulance takes Melissa Huckaby to a hospital.
# APRIL 7: An autopsy is performed on Sandra, but no cause of death is released. A reward fund grows to $26,000.
# APRIL 9: Huckaby says a black suitcase had been stolen from her the day Sandra disappeared, and she also makes some conflicting statements. She goes to the police station and later is arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and killing Sandra.
# APRIL 14: Melissa Huckaby appears in court for first time, where she is charged with murder and rape, making her eligible for the death penalty. Documents detail a troubled past, including a divorce, financial problems and a criminal record of petty crimes.
# APRIL 15: Sandra"s family holds a private service for her.
# APRIL 16: More than 3,000 people gather at West High gym in Tracy for a public memorial service.
# JUNE 12: Huckaby pleads not guilty to murder, with enhancements of rape, kidnapping, and lewd and lascivious acts on a child.
# JULY 6: Huckaby"s ex-husband is granted custody of their daughter.
# JULY 31: San Joaquin County grand jury indicts Huckaby on murder with three special circumstances, and charges in the two unrelated cases.
# AUG. 17: Huckaby is arraigned.
# SEPT. 10: Huckaby pleads not guilty. The District Attorney"s Office says it will seek the death penalty if she is convicted.
# DEC. 4: Huckaby"s trial is set for Oct. 18, 2010.

# MARCH 8: Sandra Cantu"s family holds a memorial celebration on what would have been her ninth birthday.
# MARCH 27: One year passes since Sandra"s disappearance.
# MAY 10: Huckaby accepts a deal, pleading guilty to murder with a kidnapping enhancement. All other charges are dropped.
# JUNE 14: Huckaby is to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Melinda
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PostSubject: Re: Sandra Cantu (9) R.I.P.   Thu May 13, 2010 7:35 am