Sandra Cantu Case: Melissa Huckaby's Ex-Husband Says She Had Issues With Self-Persona

Johnny Huckaby, accused killer's ex, is seeking custody of their daughter.

ByABC News via logo
April 14, 2009, 3:42 PM

April 17, 2009— -- The ex-husband of Melissa Huckaby, the California woman accused of the assault and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, said his former wife suffered from depression and other mental health problems but he didn't believe she was capable of violence.

"I do believe the emotional issues came into play quite often in her lifetime," Johnny Huckaby told "Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo in an exclusive interview today.

"She did suffer from depression. She did have issues with ... her self-persona, who she saw herself as," Huckaby, 26, told "GMA."

Huckaby said his former wife was prescribed medication at one point. "So I imagine at some point in time, she did see somebody for the problems," he said.

ABC News has learned that Huckaby was admitted to a local hospital in the days after Sandra's disappearance and that she'd had at least two other relationships with men she claimed abused her.

Watch the full interview today on "Good Morning America," which airs 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET

The couple married in August 2003, when Melissa was five months pregnant. They separated in August 2004 and divorced in September 2005. Melissa was given full custody of their daughter, now 5.

A volunteer Sunday school teacher, Melissa Huckaby was charged Tuesday with murder with the special circumstances of rape with a foreign object, lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under 14 and murder in the course of a kidnapping.

Prosecutors say Huckaby raped and murdered Sandra Cantu, a neighbor in her Tracy, Calif., trailer park, and then stuffed the girl's body into a suitcase and dropped it in an irrigation pond.

"My initial reaction was shock and complete disbelief," Johnny Huckaby said. "It's not something you want to think anyone possibly [is capable] of doing -- let alone somebody that you knew. And that's a mother of your child."

Huckaby said he holds out hope that the allegations against Melissa weren't true, particularly for his daughter's sake.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody. Especially on the family members of the victim," he said. "But mainly for my daughter. I mean, I do not want my daughter growing up with that type of legacy to look forward to."

Despite her struggle with depression, Huckaby described his ex-wife as a generally "carefree person," not prone to violence. He added that as far as he knew, Melissa was doing well since their split.

"Well from what I understand she went to school and she got a job," he said. "She was making fairly good money. She had a pretty good life going the last I'd heard."

"I don't see this being any type of intentional situation," Huckaby said of the alleged murder.

Huckaby said he was shocked when he saw television coverage of Melissa in the courtroom during her arraignment

"The way she walked out there ... was not the person that I knew," he said. "It was, looks like she was a person in somebody else's body."

Melissa Huckaby, if convicted, could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors have said they have not decided whether they will ask for the death penalty.

Johnny Huckaby, who said he had not talked to his former wife for more than three years, is seeking custody of their daughter. He has remarried and has two other children.

He said that when they separated, Melissa Huckaby moved in with her parents in Southern California, so he rarely saw his daughter.

In 2002, Melissa Huckaby took out a restraining order against a former boyfriend. In a handwritten note obtained by ABC News, Huckaby claimed he stalked her, threatened to kill her and harm her grandfather.

A year later, she was married to Johnny Huckaby. In their divorce papers, she accused him of child abduction and domestic violence, charges he vehemently denied.

His daughter is in a safe place and doing well, Huckaby said.

"She does not have any knowledge of the situation that's going on, which is best," he said.

In the Courtroom

During her April 14 arraignment, Melissa Huckaby reacted most strongly when the rape allegation was read, closing her eyes and appearing to choke back a sob. After the brief hearing, Huckaby was taken back to the San Joaquin County Jail, where she remains on suicide watch.

She was scheduled to return to court April 24, when she is expected to enter a formal plea.

Huckaby's attorney requested a gag order in the case, which will be considered at the April 24 hearing.

After the hearing, Huckaby's and Cantu's families were led out of the courtroom separately. When Huckaby's father, Brian Lawless, was asked if he thought his daughter was innocent, he replied "yes" and said he was "shocked" at the charges.