Prosecutors Consider Rape Claim in Slaying of Sandra Cantu

Melissa Huckaby has been arrested on suspicion of murdering the 8-yr-old girl.

ByABC News
April 11, 2009, 12:40 PM

April 13, 2009 — -- California prosecutors say they are considering rape and molestation allegations against the woman suspected of killing 8-year-old Sandra Cantu and stuffing her body into a suitcase.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Robert Himmelblau told The Associated Press today that a homicide charge against Melissa Huckaby, 28, could also include the special circumstances of rape with a foreign object, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and murder in the course of a kidnapping.

Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher, was arrested last week on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sandra, whose body was found inside a suitcase in an irrigation pond. Huckaby is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday.

When Huckaby turned herself into police last week for questioning, she was "calm and cool and collected," according to police in Tracy, Calif.

So far, police say, there's no known motive for the killing.

"We're very, very shocked," said Joani Hughes, Huckaby's aunt. "It's very out of character for Melissa."

Huckaby's family described the granddaughter of the local pastor as a devoted mother to her 5-year-old daughter who had a wonderful singing voice.

But her father, Brian Lawless, said that his daughter had often struggled with raising a child on her own and had sometimes suffered from bouts of depression. She'd also been in trouble with the law. When she was arrested Friday night on kidnapping and murder charges, after six hours of questioning, she was on probation for theft.

"I have no doubt in mind she knows right from wrong," her grandfather, Clove Road Baptist Church pastor Lane Lawless, said. "At least I thought she did. Maybe I'm mistaken."

The community in the mobile home park where Huckaby and Sandra lived has now had a few days to digest the news that one of its own is allegedly responsible for the crime that has rattled the entire town of Tracy. But that hasn't made it any easier for Sandra's family.

"We couldn't believe that, you know, a mother of a little girl that she used to play with was the one that killed her, allegedly," Sandra's uncle, Joe Chavez, told "Good Morning America" today.

Chavez said his sister, Maria Chavez, Sandra's mother, was "holding up as well as she can."

"Yesterday was a very somber Easter for us," he said.

Huckaby remains on suicide watch and is due to be arraigned in court Tuesday. Police said that when Sandra was captured on a surveillance camera, happily skipping down the street, she was on her way to play at Huckaby's home.

Police apparently began to narrow in on Huckaby early last week when investigators from Tracy and the FBI began searching the Clover Road Baptist Church. Huckaby had made comments to the local media about her suitcase having been stolen and, later, that she had found a note after Sandra disappeared, apparently from the killer

On Sunday, the church invited reporters inside for Easter services, provided no cameras were used. A prayer was said for Sandra and her family. And near the end, another prayer was said, this one for Huckaby.

Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman told "Good Morning America" that on Friday night, as the police questioning continued, Huckaby's once-collected demeanor began to crack.

"As the evening wore on, she became concerned and then was very emotional at one point and wanted to take a break, he said. "There was enough information that had given us probable cause to arrest her."

While Sheneman said, statistically speaking, it is "extremely unusual" for a woman to be involved in a murder such as Sandra's, police still don't have all the details.

"We do not have a motive and we have not been able to develop one," he said.