Tracy Police Search Home of Suspect in Girl Murder

By: Terry Collins and Evelyn Nieves AP
By: Terry Collins and Evelyn Nieves AP

STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) - Authorities have searched for a second time the home and church of a woman charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering an 8-year-old girl whose body was found in a suitcase in an irrigation pond.

Police wouldn't give details about what they were looking for Tuesday at Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy and the Clover Road Baptist Church, where suspect Melissa Huckaby was a volunteer Sunday school teacher. Her grandfather also is a pastor there.

Sgt. Tony Sheneman said authorities don't believe anyone else is involved in Sandra Cantu's murder. Search warrants, he said, were
intended to gain evidence leading to prosecution.

Huckaby was arraigned Tuesday on one count of 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. She cried as the judge read the charges, and did not enter a plea.

The special circumstances mean Huckaby, if convicted, could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. District Attorney James Willett said Tuesday he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

The slaying had already aroused fear among parents in Tracy and especially in the mobile home complex. Huckaby and Sandra lived five doors down from each other, and Sandra was a close friend of Huckaby's daughter. The rape allegation heightened concern for children.

Police are now advising parents to report any information they may have regarding other possible sexual assaults in the community.

"What we're asking is for the public, if they have any indication that any of their children may have had inappropriate contact with Miss Huckaby, to contact us," Sheneman told reporters Tuesday.

Sandra disappeared March 27, and was last seen on a surveillance camera skipping outside the mobile home park.

A 10-day search ended on April 6, when farmworkers draining a nearby irrigation pond found the suitcase containing Sandra's body.

Huckaby's grandfather, Pastor Clifford Lawless, was interviewed the night Sandra's body was recovered, and police took computers and a phone from his home, where Huckaby also lived. The nearby church also was searched. Police haven't said what seized.

Huckaby told a reporter Friday the suitcase that contained Sandra's body was hers, but it had been stolen out of her driveway the day Sandra disappeared. Police arrested her later that night.

Police have not said how, why or where Sandra was killed, and the coroner's office has said autopsy results are pending.

A public memorial service is scheduled for Sandra in Tracy on Thursday.

Huckaby has been ordered to return to court on April 24, when she's expected to enter a plea.
Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco also
contributed to this report.

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