Huckaby pleads guilty in murder of 8-year-old

Melissa Huckaby listens during her arraignment, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (AP Photo)
May 11, 2010 12:33:10 AM PDT
There was a stunning turn of events in court Monday in a Central California murder case, as Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby changed her plea and admitted to killing 8-year-old Sandra Cantu last year.

With this plea, Melissa Huckaby will avoid the death penalty.

A gag order is still in place in the case, so the Cantu family was not able to comment much Monday, but Sandra's aunt Angie Chavez said that when the time is right, the family will have "plenty to say" about what happened to her niece.

Huckaby went from defendant to confessed killer in a matter of minutes inside the Stockton courtroom where she pleaded guilty to Sandra's murder. The announcement came during a routine hearing that was supposed to be a prelude to an upcoming trial.

Families for both Huckaby and Cantu left court without comment.

Under the deal, the former Sunday school teacher pleaded guilty to kidnapping and first-degree murder. Additional charges of lewd acts with a child and rape were dropped.

Huckaby will spend the rest of her life in prison.

Sandra Cantu disappeared on March 27, 2009. She was last seen in a surveillance video, skipping down the street. Her body was found 10 days later inside a suitcase dumped in an irrigation pond a few miles away. Huckaby, the mother of one of Sandra's playmates, was arrested four days later.

At Orchard Estates, where both Huckaby and Cantu lived, most residents seemed relieved by Huckaby's plea.

"Finally, there's a little closure, than before, you know? Just waiting and waiting and waiting," said one resident named Jackie. "That's the hard part for the family."

Alfred Costello was among several men police questioned extensively after Sandra disappeared.

"She's guilty. Hey, she pleaded guilty. Go for it," he said.

Other say that even with Huckaby's confession, the community will never be the same.

"I think slowly the kids are moving on, but I think all the adults and all the older people in the neighborhood, are having a harder time moving on because Sandra was really close with everyone that lived in the park. She would come and visit everyone," Arah Evans told ABC7.

As much as the plea brings closure, it also leaves many questions unanswered including how, where and why Melissa Huckaby killed Sandra.

Huckaby will be formally sentenced on June 14.


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