Melissa Huckaby Indicted in Cantu Murder

Former Sunday school teacher accused of rape and murder of 8-year-old girl.

ByABC News
August 17, 2009, 5:47 PM

Aug. 17, 2009 -- Former Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby broke down in tears today when she was indicted in a Stockton, Calif., courtroom on charges of kidnapping, raping and murdering 8-year-old neighbor Sandra Cantu and drugging two others.

In June, Huckaby, 28, pleaded not guilty to the murder of a second-grader whose body was found April 6, stuffed in a suitcase in an irrigation pond 10 days after she disappeared from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy, Calif.

She did enter a plea to the charges announced today.

The drugging indictments stem from charges prosecutors filed in May, accusing Huckaby of trying to poison a 7-year-old girl and a 37-year-old man. The girl recovered but authorities do not know what happened to the man.

At the hearing today, Huckaby had visible marks on her forehead, ABC News Sacramento affiliate KXTV reported. A prosecutor indicated Huckaby made the marks herself earlier in the day.

The murder charge includes the special circumstances of kidnapping, lewd and lascivious acts with a child and rape with a foreign object , making her eligible for the death penalty if she is convicted.

Huckaby's trial date has not yet been set.

In May, the district attorney's office announced a slew of new charges, including the alleged poisonings of a 7-year-old child and an adult man.

An 18-year-old woman, who declined to be identified, told ABC News in April that her 7-year-old sister went missing with Huckaby in January and came home drugged.

"Her speech was slurred ... like she had a really bad lisp," the woman said of her sister. "And she would cry a lot like something was wrong with her. She couldn't stand up without help. She couldn't walk. Every time she tried to walk, she would fall."

"So they took her to the hospital, and the hospital told us that she had muscle relaxants in her system," the teenager said.

The woman alleged that the death of Sandra Cantu might not have happened if detectives had taken her sister's case more seriously at the time.

Huckaby is also suspected of drugging a man named Daniel Plowman three weeks before the murder.

Huckaby, who lived with her grandparents and 5-year-old daughter, was a neighbor of Sandra's family in the mobile home park. Her grandfather is the pastor of a nearby church, which authorities searched in the days leading up to Huckaby's arrest.

Police have denied mishandling the case.

Everyone connected to the Huckaby case, including police, potential witnesses and lawyers and family members for both sides, have been silenced under a gag order. Autopsy results and most court motions also remain sealed, giving little information about what kind of evidence the state has against Huckaby or exactly how Sandra Cantu died.