Teacher Arrested in Cantu Murder



April 11, 2009

This is so heinous, so disgusting, and so ungodly words can not begin to express the state of evil that could be in the heart of this mother to have acted in such a way to cover-up the rape and murder of this little girl in her house.


TRACY, Calif. (April 11) A (Baptist) Sunday school teacher was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and killing 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, whose body was found in a suitcase in an irrigation pond.

Melissa Huckaby, 28, was arrested at 11:55 p.m. Friday, about five hours after she drove herself to the local police station at the request of officers, said police Sgt. Tony Sheneman.


"She gave enough information to us during the course of the interview that probable cause was there to arrest her," said Sheneman. No other arrests were made.


Police did not say how Sandra died or give a possible motive.

Huckaby was being held without bail at the San Joaquin County Jail, with arraignment set for Tuesday, according to the county sheriff's Web site.


Sandra disappeared on March 27 and hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials turned out to search for her. Pictures of the girl with dark brown eyes and light brown hair were posted all over Tracy, a city of 78,000 people about 60 miles east of San Francisco.


On April 6, farmworkers draining an irrigation pond found the suitcase.

The slain girl's aunt, Angie Chavez, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press early Saturday that she was happy to learn of the arrest.

"I want to know why she did it, if she did it," Chavez said.


At an early morning news conference, Tracy Police Chief Janet Thiessen said investigators had worked on the case tirelessly.


"We have information that Sandra, by the time she was reported missing to us, that she probably had already been murdered," said Thiessen.

"It has helped us to bring Sandra home, again not in the way that we would've hoped, but that was out of our hands shortly after she went missing."


Huckaby had previously told The Tracy Press that Sandra visited her home on the day of her disappearance to play with her 5-year-old daughter. But Huckaby said she'd turned Sandra away because her daughter needed to pick up her toys and Sandra went to another friend's home. Huckaby also said she had left her suitcase in the driveway that day, and that it was missing.


The Tracy Press reported that Huckaby was released Thursday from Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, where she spent several days in intensive care for what she described as "internal bleeding."

Huckaby is a granddaughter of Pastor Clifford Lawless, whose Clover Road Baptist Church was the subject of a police search. Huckaby taught Sunday school at the church and lived with Lawless in the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park that also was Sandra's home.

Lawless did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Saturday.


Huckaby's family had been questioned at length during the investigation, and their home and vehicles had been searched, Sheneman said.

Huckaby was scheduled to appear in court on April 17 to check in with a county mental health program as part of a three-year probation sentence for a petty theft she pleaded no contest to. In an interview with the newspaper on Friday, Huckaby said someone else by the same name was facing charges for the attempted November theft from Target.


Tracy's Melissa Huckaby charged with murder, rape in Sandra Cantu case

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Mike Martinez
Bay Area News Group


STOCKTON Melissa Huckaby, 28, was charged today with murder with three special circumstances: kidnapping, lewd or lascivious acts and rape by a foreign object in the death of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, according to a complaint filed today in San Joaquin County Superior Court,.

At her early afternoon arraignment, Huckaby was accused of kidnapping, molesting and killing Sandra, who was a playmate of Huckaby's daughter and a neighbor in the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy.

Shackled at the waist and ankles, Huckaby cried through most of her court appearance, especially when the charges were read.

She did not enter a plea and was assigned a public defender.

Huckaby, wearing a red suit, looked worn down. Court officials said she is getting a medical evaluation.

Her father, Brian Lawless of Orange County, was in the courtroom, as well as several members of Sandra's family, wearing "Justice for Sandra" T-shirts. The District Attorney said outside the courtroom that it hasn't been decided whether prosecutors will pursue the death penalty.

Sandra, the daughter of Maria Chavez and Daniel Cantu, was last seen alive in the mobile home park on March 27. Her disappearance set off a major search that lasted until her body was found April 6 in a suitcase floating in a pond just two miles away from her home.