Sandra's Body Won't Be Exhumed

Defense drops request to examine 8-year-old's body; judge issues gag order.

April 20, 2009, 1:46 PM

April 21, 2009— -- Defense attorneys for the woman accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 8-year-old Sandra Cantu reportedly dropped their request today to have the Tracy, Calif., girl's body exhumed.

Public defender Peter Fox told the San Francisco Chronicle that the deputy public defender handling the case was told today by the county's chief medical examiner "the relevant samples" for the defense to conduct independent tests to determine whether the girl had been raped "were preserved" and were not interred with the girl's body in a mausoleum.

"It will not be necessary to disturb the child's remains," Fox told the Chronicle. "From a human point of view, certainly it's nice not to have to do that."

A court was scheduled to hold a hearing on the request Thursday, just days after Sandra was laid to rest -- the latest twist in the case against her accused killer -- a request to exhume the second-grader's body.

Sandra's private funeral was held last Wednesday. One day later, the request was filed to exhume her body so the defense for accused killer Melissa Huckaby would have an opportunity to conduct its own autopsy.

Huckaby's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Samuel Behar, professed to have no knowledge of the case when contacted by, but a court document filed by Behar Thursday indicated the request was based on the deputy district attorney's belief that Sandra had suffered "genital trauma consistent with forcible penetration."

Also today, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge LindaLofthus issued a gag order prohibiting anyone involved with the case from publicly discussing it.

Multiple Charges Against Huckaby

In addition to murder, Huckaby has been charged with the special circumstances of kidnapping, lewd and lavicious acts with a child and rape with a foreign object.

In the court document requesting the exhumation, Behar said the defense needed to examine the alleged trauma so Huckaby would be able to defend herself. He also requested the exhumation take place quickly, alleging that deterioration would cause Sandra's body to have "progressively diminishing value."

The request had asked for the exhumation to take place on Friday, April 17.

San Joaquin Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau told Monday that his office would file a response to the request, but did not elaborate.

Sandra's aunt, who has been acting as the family spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the request.

"I wish I could, but I can't," Sandra's aunt, Angie Chavez, told

Babara Sokoloski, who was Sandra's neighbor in the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, said she saw no need to disturb the little girl who used to come by the house to visit.

"I can't see any sense in it," Sokoloski said. "If they checked her body before ... they wouldn't say she was sexually molested unless they did see something."

Sandra's body was discovered April 6, found stuffed into a suitcase in an irrigation pond. Huckaby, the granddaughter of a preacher who taught Sunday school and lived in the same mobile home park as Sandra, was arrested days later after police say she gave interviews to the local media that included statements inconsistent with what she had told authorities.

Chavez said the family was mostly holding up as best they could. They were shocked at the massive turnout for Sandra's public memorial service, held Thursday.

"We were very surprised," Chavez said. "We knew she touched a lot of people."

Mourners and well-wishers stopped by the mobile home park for days after Sandra was found, leaving flowers, signs, candles and stuffed animals. But now that the focus has turned to Huckaby's trial, Sokoloski said, the park, once crawling with police and reporters, has started to quiet down.

The neighborhood, she said, is just "trying to get back to normal."

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