June 14, 2010— -- Former Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby used a noose to strangle 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, officials revealed today during the confessed killer's sentencing.
Huckaby, 29, pleaded guilty last month to first degree murder and kidnapping "with enhancements" to avoid the death penalty.
Today in court, a sobbing Huckaby apologized to Sandra's family, saying: "I should not have taken her from you."
"I owe you an explanation. But I still cannot understand why I did what I did," she said.
She was sentenced to life without parole.
Many of the details of the grisly crime have previously been kept from the public, sealed under a judge's gag order. The judge lifted that order and the prosecutor revealed for the first time how Sandra was killed.
Quoting the pathologist's report, prosecutor Tom Testa said Sandra had been strangled with a torn piece of cloth that had been knotted into "a noose." He said the cause of death was "homicidal asphyxiation."
Previously released court documents had revealed that Huckaby was accused of poisoning Sandra, and sexually assaulting her with a foreign object, before killing her and dumping her body in an irrigation pond.
Some of her injuries were consistent with a rolling pin with a bent handle and bloody smudge found inside a church where Huckaby had taught. The smudge matched Sandra's blood, according to the pathologist's report.
The sexual assault charge was dropped as part of the plea deal Huckaby made with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty in May.
Huckaby today denied having sexually assaulted the girl and asked Sandra's mother Maria Chavez for forgiveness.
"She did not suffer, and I did not sexually molest her," Huckaby said. "I'm asking you, Maria, for your forgiveness. I can't imagine forgiving someone who harmed my daughter. I hope someday you can forgive me."
But according to the pathologist's reported cited by Testa, Sandra suffered a cut to her lip, an abrasion to her elbow and injuries to her genitals.
Testa said toxicology tests also found the drug alprazolam, used to treat anxiety disorders, in Cantu's body. Bottles of alprazolam were found in Huckaby's home and purse, Testa said.