Rape Added to List of Charges For Tracy Woman

Police: 28-year-old Sunday school teacher acted alone

A weeping  Sunday school teacher held in the killing of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu faces additional counts following her Tuesday court arraignment.

San Joaquin County prosecutors say a murder charge against Melissa Huckaby will 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.

Huckaby had tears following down her face during the entire hearing.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Himmelblau says a conviction on any of the special circumstances would make Huckaby eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without parole, but added the decision to go for the dealth penalty would be made at a later date.

"Consistent with our policy with regard to the handling of all special circumstances murders, we will not make a decision on whether to seek death until we're further down the road in these proceedings," San Joaquin County District Attorney James Willet said.

Every seat in the courtroom was filled for the arraignment.  In the audience was Sandra's aunt and uncle Angie and Joe Chavez.   Susan Levy, mother of slain Modesto intern Sandra Levy sat next to the couple as a sign of support.

Security was tight for the hearing as officers searched every bag of every member of the media after they walked through a metal detector.

Huckaby did not enter a plea. A public defender was assigned to her. She will next appear in court on April 24 for further arraignment.

Huckaby lived in the Tracy mobile home complex where the victim, Sandra Cantu, also lived. The girl disappeared March 27. Her body was found in a suitcase when farmworkers drained a pond April 6.

The 28-year-old is being held without bail. She's due to be arraigned this afternoon 1 p.m. in Stockton.

Huckaby's family visited with her Monday for 35 minutes for the first time since her arrest.

"I let her know that her family is here." Huckaby's father, Brian Lawless, said. "We sat and cried a little bit."

They did not discuss details the visit or the allegations with reporters but they did say they could not believe she committed the crimes.

"People are saying she is guilty." Huckaby's grandmother, Connie Lawless, said. "What happened to her trial and presumption of innocence?"

Tracy police say they believe Huckaby acted alone and are not looking for anyone else to arrest. They still have not said what they believe the motive might have been behind the kidnapping and killing.


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"We're having a difficult time trying to figure out why one mother would kill another mother's child," Tracy police spokesman Tony Sheneman said.

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 her daughter was friends with Cantu. The two girls played together and spent time at Huckaby's house, which was in the same neighborhood as Cantu's.

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 will be facing San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa, a prosecutor who has put two men on California's death row and countless murderers in prison for life, according to the Stockton Record.

NBC Bay Area will have camera in the courtroom for today's arraignment.

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