As the victim's family watches, Melissa Huckaby's plea is again deferred; the judge seals autopsy records

By Howard Breuer
Updated April 24, 2009 05:35 PM
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Credit: AP

Melissa Huckaby appeared calm and stared straight ahead at her second court appearance Friday afternoon in the murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, whose family sat in the front row wearing “Justice for Sandra” T-shirts.

In contrast with her first court appearance last week where she shuddered and wept, this time the Tracy, Calif., Sunday school teacher briefly smiled at her public defender and calmly nodded at the judge when she spoke to her.

Judge Linda Lofthus sealed Cantu’s autopsy report, and Huckaby’s attorney withdrew his office’s request to exhume the girl’s body for examination by a defense-hired pathologist. That specialist will instead examine samples and evidence set aside by the coroner, the attorney has told reporters.

Autopsy Report Sealed

“It is in the overriding interest of the defense and prosecution to seal the autopsy and toxicology reports,” Lofthus said to the packed courtroom. Reporters competed for seats by entering a lottery. Several media trucks were parked outside the Stockton courthouse.

“This is the kind of case we have never experienced in San Joaquin county,” Lofthus said. “Most courts never have this kind of case.”

The arraignment was again postponed, this time until May 22.

Huckaby, 28, the granddaughter of the neighborhood pastor, is charged with murder with the special circumstances of rape by instrument, kidnapping and lewd and lascivious acts on a child – charges that allow the District Attorney to seek the death penalty at trial. Huckaby allegedly murdered Cantu on March 27, stuffed her body in a suitcase, and dumped it in a nearby agricultural pond.

Authorities say Huckaby is also a suspect in an unrelated child abduction earlier this year from the same mobile home park, and in a series of arsons in Southern California.