Melissa Huckaby pleads not guilty

June 12, 2009 5:27:29 PM PDT
The woman accused of kidnapping and killing Sandra Cantu, the 8-year-old Tracy girl, went back to court on Friday. But unlike the previous three visits, this time, she entered a plea -- not guilty to all charges.

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Unlike her first court appearance, this time Melissa Huckaby showed little emotion, even smiled a couple of times, as her attorney entered a plea of not guilty to all counts in the kidnap and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu.

Huckaby also denied all special circumstances, including allegations she raped the girl with a foreign object.

Sandra's body was found inside a suitcase, dumped in an irrigation pond. There was no mention of Huckaby's mental state in her plea.

"It doesn't preclude you from raising sanity issues later. That's why they wanted to get the ball rolling. An insanity defense requires a lot of mental health forensic information. You don't necessarily want to commit to that," said legal analyst Steven Clark.

Huckaby's plea came in her fourth court appearance and only after prosecutor Thomas Testa filed a motion asking that judge Linda Lofthus enter a plea for Huckaby, if she did not answer the charges.

In another matter, Judge Lofthus revealed she had received some 500 Google alerts about the Cantu case from family and staff.

"As you know, you just sign up on Google and it's like a big fishing net and it will collect all the news stories where a particular term is mentioned. We didn't have a problem with it," said the District Attorney's spokesman Robert Himelblau.

Huckaby's preliminary hearing is now set for September. Prosecutors expect it will last about a week. That is, unless the district attorney decides to send this case to a grand jury before then.

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