Summary:

Paragraph 11 of the first article reads: "Schwarzenberg also asked Vlavianos to order a "medication evaluation" of Huckaby at the jail, saying that Huckaby had been on medication. Vlavianos agreed to the check up. Vlavianos also said that Van Oss would consider granting a gag order."

Paragraphs 22 and 23 of the first article read:  "She said she does not believe her granddaughter could have committed the crime, unless 'some freakish thing happened'."

"She said her granddaughter had been taking some psychotropic medication,
and that she had no criminal history aside from a shoplifting."

Paragraph 11 of the second article reads:  ""Huckaby divorced a few years ago and has had a hard time coping, her father, Brian Lawless of Orange County, told the Chronicle. She has fought depression,
her relatives said, according to the newspaper."

First paragraph of the second article reads: "Nothing about Melissa Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher at her grandfather's California church, would indicate she's capable of killing her daughter's 8-year-old friend as police allege, relatives say.

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090415/A_NEWS/904150329


STOCKTON - An emotionally fragile Melissa Chantel Huckaby lost her struggle to maintain composure during a brief arraignment Tuesday while listening to a judge read aloud the charges that she kidnapped, murdered and raped 8-year-old Sandra Cantu.

Shackled, wearing red jailhouse clothes and standing for the proceeding, Huckaby, 28, is accused of crimes that make her eligible for a death sentence.

Reading the complaint, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Richard Vlavianos said prosecutors alleged that Huckaby murdered Sandra "while the said defendant was engaged in the commission ... of the crime of rape by instrument."

The Tracy woman wrinkled her face and began to cry when Vlavianos read the name of "Sandra Cantu" from the criminal complaint. Again, she sobbed when he used the words "rape by an instrument." Tears dropped down her face.

The entire hearing lasted a little more than four minutes but carried the weight of the past three weeks - through Sandra's disappearance March 27, the discovery of her body in a black suitcase and Huckaby's arrest.

Meanwhile, investigators Tuesday served two more search warrants on Huckaby's home and the Clover Road Baptist Church just down the street from the trailer park where Sandra was last seen alive.

Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said he could not elaborate on the details of the searches and would not say if they were conducted because police are still trying to piece together a motive.

Prosecutors charged Huckaby, the granddaughter of a Tracy preacher, with murder and three special circumstances of kidnapping, lewd or lascivious acts on a child, and rape by a foreign object.

Vlavianos asked Huckaby if she wanted the Public Defender's Office, which she had used before, to represent her. Huckaby made her only utterance of the hearing when she mouthed an affirmative answer to his question.

San Joaquin County Deputy Public Defender Ellen Schwarzenberg, who rubbed Huckaby's back to comfort her, did not enter a plea for her client, asking instead for more time. Superior Court Judge Terrence Van Oss will hear Huckaby's case, which is set for April 24.

Schwarzenberg also asked Vlavianos to order a "medication evaluation" of Huckaby at the jail, saying that Huckaby had been on medication. Vlavianos agreed to the check up. Vlavianos also said that Van Oss would consider granting a gag order.

Officials on the case are not saying much. The three-page complaint made public before the hearing did not say what "instrument" Huckaby allegedly used on Sandra. The arraignment gave no insight into what Tracy police and prosecutors believe may have been her motive.

The courtroom was filled to capacity. More than three dozen reporters from local and national media outlets watched closely.

Inside were Sandra's family; aunt Angie Chavez and uncle Joe Chavez sat with Susan Levy, the mother of slain Washington intern Chandra Levy. They were teary-eyed as the charges were read. Sandra's mother and grandparents, with whom she lived at the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, did not attend the hearing.

On the other side of the courtroom were Huckaby's relatives, including her father, Brian Lawless, grandmother Connie Lawless and aunt Joni Hughes. Brian Lawless looked down, hands together in his lap. He and Hughes also teared up during the hearing.

Among the officials were Tracy Police Chief Janet M. Thiessen, seated with three of her investigators. San Joaquin County Public Defender Pete Fox also was in court.

San Joaquin County District Attorney James Willett watched with his chief prosecutors. Outside the courthouse, a swell of reporters swarmed around Willett, who made a brief statement.

Willett said his office will follow the normal procedure in deciding what penalty they will seek against Huckaby.

"As charged, she faces a potential death sentence or alternatively life without the possibility of parole," Willett said. "We will not make a decision on whether to seek death until we're further down the road in these proceedings."

Connie Lawless, in a phone interview after the hearing, described her granddaughter as a sweet person. Huckaby told family members during jailhouse visits that she is innocent. The charges put the family in a state of shock, Lawless said.

"This is totally out of character for our granddaughter," she said. "She is a woman who never raised a hand to a child, never raised a voice."

She said she does not believe her granddaughter could have committed the crime, unless "some freakish thing happened."

She said her granddaughter had been taking some psychotropic medication, and that she had no criminal history aside from a shoplifting.

Lawless said she and her husband visited for the first time with Huckaby at the San Joaquin County Jail for 40 minutes Monday evening. There, Lawless said, "We cried together, we prayed."

Lawless asked that everyone maintain an open mind. Her granddaughter has yet to speak with an attorney, and the only side of the story to come out so far has come from the Tracy Police Department, which is one-sided, she said.

Sandra's estranged father, Daniel Cantu, arrived late for Tuesday's court hearing. He watched a news conference outside and hugged a half-dozen friends who all wore "Justice for Sandra" T-shirts.

Cantu spoke quietly and thanked the volunteers who searched for his daughter and the police who investigated her death. "It's not the outcome we expected," he said. "I thank everybody for helping."

The criminal charges - more often seen involving men - baffle experts, who say such incidents involving women are rare.

According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, women are responsible for 6.4 percent of sex-related homicides in the nation. Just 2.4 percent of female murder victims are killed by women.

"Women don't tend to kill kids very much, and when they do, it tends to be their own children," said David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center. "It's very hard to say what's going on."

Even more abnormal are the sexual abuse charges. Typically, if a woman molests a child, the victim tends to be older, perhaps a teenager, Finkelhor said. The woman also more often acts in concert with a male perpetrator, he said.

Huckaby remains held at the San Joaquin County Jail without possibility of release on bail.

Staff writer Daniel Thigpen contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Scott Smith at (209) 546-8296 or ssmith@recordnet.com.

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http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/13/california.slain.girl.suspect/


CNN) -- Nothing about Melissa Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher at her grandfather's California church, would indicate she's capable of killing her daughter's 8-year-old friend as police allege, relatives say.

Melissa Huckaby, expected to be arraigned Tuesday in the death of Sandra Cantu, is a wonderful mother who is at ease with other children, relatives say. Cantu's body was found last week in a suitcase submerged in a pond.

But they acknowledge her life was less than tranquil before moving into her grandparents' Tracy, California, home last year. They say she's had difficulties dealing with a divorce, and she's had legal problems, including bankruptcy and a theft conviction.

"She is a good, church-going girl, but she has had her challenges," California resident Cynthia Browning, Huckaby's great-aunt, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Huckaby, 28, was arrested on charges of murder and kidnapping late Friday, four days after the suitcase with Cantu's body was found at a dairy farm's pond in Tracy, not far from the church run by Huckaby's grandfather.

Cantu was last seen alive March 27 in the Tracy mobile home park where she lived. It's the same park where Huckaby lives with her 5-year-old daughter and grandparents. The two children were close friends and played frequently, Tracy police said.

Investigators believe the suitcase is Huckaby's and that she lied about it being missing, police said. Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman told reporters over the weekend that he didn't know the motive in the slaying, and he declined to say whether Huckaby confessed but said "she revealed enough information that we had probable cause to arrest her."

On Sunday, Huckaby's relatives told reporters in Tracy they were shocked by the allegations against her.

"The information we've been given regarding the charges against [her] are completely out of character for her," said one man, who identified himself only as a relative. Another relative, also declining to give her name, said Huckaby "is a fantastic mother, very loving."

Huckaby, who grew up in Orange County, California, moved in with her grandparents about eight months ago, according to the Contra Costa Times. She did so in part so that she'd have more time "to take better care of her daughter, who ... gets sick a lot," Browning told the Chronicle.

Huckaby divorced a few years ago and has had a hard time coping, her father, Brian Lawless of Orange County, told the Chronicle. She has fought depression, her relatives said, according to the newspaper.

She also has faced legal difficulties. Citing court records, the Tracy Press reported she pleaded no contest January 9 to a felony charge of second-degree commercial burglary and a misdemeanor charge of property theft.

A criminal complaint says she was jailed in Los Angeles County on a property theft conviction in 2006 and that she tried to steal from a store in November 2008. According to the complaint, she was on probation in San Joaquin County and was due back in court Friday.

And she filed for bankruptcy in 2003, reporting credit card and medical debt, according to CNN affiliate KCRA-TV.

Relatives said her only current job was the Sunday school teaching, according to the Chronicle.

The allegations stunned a friend of Huckaby's from high school, Emily Glyer Fontes, according to the Orange County Register. Fontes said she recalled that Huckaby "was almost like a mother" to a baby girl that Huckaby's parents adopted while she was in high school.

"That's why this is so overwhelming to me," Fontes, who said she and Huckaby were on the school's dance team, told the Register. "She was so wonderful with kids -- absolutely amazing. I feel so completely confused and so devastated about this. Everything I knew has been turned upside down."

Police have not said how Cantu died. The day she was last seen, she came home from school, kissed her mother and left to play with a friend who lives nearby, a family spokeswoman has said.

Before her arrest, Huckaby told the Tracy Press that Cantu came by her home to see whether she could play with Huckaby's daughter, but Huckaby would not let her daughter play because she wanted her daughter to pick up her toys. Cantu left for another friend's house, Huckaby told the newspaper.

Huckaby also told the Tracy Press that she owned the suitcase in which the child's body was found, but said she reported it missing the day before the body's discovery. She said it disappeared about the same time the child did.

Sheneman told reporters after Huckaby's arrest that "inconsistencies" between that interview and statements Huckaby had made to police were one reason police re-interviewed her Friday night.