- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

DA: Rape may be alleged in Calif. girl’s slaying

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Prosecutors said Monday they may include rape and molestation allegations in their murder charge against the woman suspected of killing an 8-year-old Northern California girl and putting her body in a suitcase.

Melissa Huckaby, a 28-year-old Sunday school teacher, was arrested Friday on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sandra Cantu.

Formal charges have not yet been filed, but San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Robert Himmelblau told The Associated Press that a murder charge against Huckaby could include the special circumstances of rape with a foreign object, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and murder in the course of a kidnapping.

A conviction on any of the special circumstances would make Huckaby eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without parole, Himmelblau said. The district attorney’s office has not determined whether it will seek the death penalty, he said.

Sandra disappeared on March 27, and pictures of her were posted all over Tracy, a city of 78,000 people about 60 miles east of San Francisco. Sandra’s body was found April 6 by farmworkers, stuffed in a suitcase in an irrigation pond.

Police have not said how, where or why Sandra was killed. The girl was a playmate of Huckaby’s 5-year-old daughter, Madison.

Himmelblau wouldn’t provide details on any evidence leading prosecutors to consider the sexual assault allegations.

“I was hoping that wasn’t the case,” Sandra’s aunt, Angie Chavez, said through tears. “I’m in shock. The whole thing is unimaginable.”

Huckaby is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Stockton. A decision on which special circumstances to include in the charges has not been made, Himmelblau said.

He was not aware if Huckaby had an attorney.

She remained in custody without bail at the San Joaquin County Jail, where jail staff have been monitoring her mental health. She has not been allowed visitors.

Tracy police did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

Associated Press writer Terry Collins in Tracy, Calif., contributed to this report.

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