DA will seek death penalty for Huckaby

September 10, 2009 7:26:59 PM PDT
Not a single woman in California has been executed in 47 years, but on Thursday murder defendant Melissa Huckaby learned she will face the death penalty if convicted in the killing of a young girl from Tracy.

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"The final decision was made today," said San Joaquin County prosecutor Thomas Testa.

Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against Melissa Huckaby, if she's convicted in the rape and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu.

"These tasks are taken very seriously. It's a momentous decision, whether to seek the death penalty or not," said Testa. "We all took it real seriously, discussed at great length, over many days."

Huckaby gave no reaction when Testa made the announcement in a Stockton courtroom.

Huckaby's public defender Sam Behar entered a plea of not guilty to the five-count indictment against the single mother, which includes the murder and rape of Cantu, a playmate of Huckaby's 5-year-old daughter.

Prosecutors want the case to move swiftly to trial.

"It's been my practice to move a case along as quickly as possible, so that people can testify about events while those events are fresh in their minds, especially when you have minor or child witnesses," said Testa.

In another development, Huckaby asked for a Marsden hearing, typically used when a defendant wants to fire his or her attorney. Judge Linda Lofthus granted the hearing, but denied Huckaby's request to remove Behar from her case, which now may earn Huckaby a trip to death row.

"And that may be the big problem between Melissa Huckaby and her attorney is that more wasn't done to avoid the death penalty in this case," said legal analyst Steven Smith.

"Defense attorneys need a thick skin. It's not going to hurt his relationship to her one bit. Sam Behar's going to go out there and fight for her and try to save her life," said Defense Attorney Daniel Horowitz.

If Melissa Huckaby is convicted and sentenced to death, she would join 16 other women currently on California's death row. Only four women have been executed in California history -- the last one in 1962.

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