Cantu's family unaware of previous case

April 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sandra Cantu's family is dealing with an awful question -- "What if police had arrested the woman accused of killing their little girl, 10 weeks earlier?" That's when Melissa Huckaby was linked to the disappearance of another child.

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Late Tuesday afternoon in Stockton, a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge issued a gag order in the Sandra Cantu case. All parties directly connected with the case can no longer speak with the media.

Before the gag order was issued, ABC7 did speak with the family of another girl who went missing a few months ago.

"I guess if prosecution had happened, then maybe this wouldn't have happened," said Angie Chavez, Sandra's aunt.

The family of Sandra says they only found out Monday that earlier this year, another little girl had gone missing from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park. It was a girl later found in the company of murder suspect Melissa Huckaby.

Asked if she had wished she had known sooner, Chavez responded, "Yes, of course."

A Tracy Police log confirms a little girl was reported missing on January 17th, and that several hours later, the girl was returned safely in a neighbor's purple Kia Sportage. It's the same type of car owned by Huckaby.

The 7-year-old's mother and adult sister told ABC7 that Huckaby told them she had driven the girl to several local parks for a playdate with Huckaby's 5-year-old daughter.

"Melissa brought her home. And after Melissa left and everybody else went, she wasn't acting right. Her speech was slurred. She could barely walk. She could barely stand," said the girl's sister.

The family took the girl to a local hospital, where a police log confirms she tested positive for benzodiazepine, a category of drugs that includes muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medications like valium. The hospital found no evidence the girl was molested. Despite the positive drug test, Tracy Police filed no charges.

"A complete investigation was done at that time. There was no probable cause to arrest anyone," said Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman.

"If they would've done their job right, everything with Sandra could have been prevented and she would have been here today," said the girl's sister.

Asked if she still has faith in the Tracy Police Department, Sandra's uncle Joe Chavez responded, "We have full faith in the Tracy Police Department and the FBI. They do fantastic work."

The gag order is very broadly defined and non-specific. Normally in a criminal case it would only apply to parties directly involved, the attorneys, potential witnesses, and investigators. However, late on Tuesday, ABC7 discovered Tracy Mayor Brent Ives said he could no longer talk about this case either.

Late Tuesday night, ABC7 learned Huckaby was also a person of interest in two arson fires. Police in La Palma say she was questioned for possibly trying to set her home on fire twice in 2007, when she lived in Orange County with her daughter. However, both of those fires were minor and no charges were ever filed.

Also on Tuesday, Huckaby's attorney dropped a request to have Sandra's body exhumed. The defense had wanted new tests done to determine for certain that the 8-year-old was raped before her death. The rape accusation is important because it makes Huckaby eligible for the death penalty, if she's convicted.

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