Melissa Huckaby’s surprise guilty plea in the murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu brought the criminal case close to an end, but left many unanswered questions for the people of Tracy, Calif.
“My child lost his innocence because a friend of his, at a young age, was done so wrong, and now you have to explain what happened,” says Kelsey Hall, whose son was Cantu’s classmate at Melville S. Jacobson Elementary School. “They aren’t dumb and they want to know.”
On Monday, media attorneys will ask the judge to lift a wide-reaching gag order and unseal court documents, including the transcript of the secret grand jury hearings – the only time witnesses have testified in the case.
Cantu family members say the documents should remain sealed because their release would be too painful.
“We cannot carry any more weight in our lives and if the photographs and forensic examinations of my daughter are disclosed, I do not know how we would be able to cope,” Sandra’s mother Maria Chavez says in a document filed by her attorney, Archer Bakerink.
If the judge refuses to release the documents, the matter will likely again come up at Huckaby’s sentencing on June 14, where at the very least the gag order would likely be lifted.
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Huckaby, a 29-year-old Sunday school teacher, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As part of her plea deal, she won’t get the death penalty, and all other charges – including rape, lewd acts with a child and poisoning another child and a man – have been dropped.
The Cantu family backed the plea deal because it avoided a trial and because they oppose capital punishment. “We’re happy that the judgment came down like this,” Joe Chavez, Sandra’s uncle, tells PEOPLE.
So far, even the most basic information about the case has been kept under wraps. Community members say they’re still baffled by the murder – and angry.
“We’re all pretty sad all the time, thinking about what happened. It’s not right,” says Brandon Harris, 10, who stays with his grandmother after school at the mobile home park from which Sandra was abducted. “What grudge did Melissa Huckaby have on [Sandra] anyway? Why would she do something like this? We don’t know.”