Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sunday School Teacher Arrested in Murder of 8-Year-Old Sandra Cantu

This one did surprise me a lot. Who whould have thought that she was killed by a women. I made the assumption that it was some pervert who did it, but looks like I was wrong. Of course she is innocent till proven guilty.

A Sunday school teacher who was one of the last people to see 8-year-old Sandra Cantu alive was arrested late Friday on suspicion of kidnapping and killing the young girl.

Melissa Huckaby, 28, was taken into custody at 11:55 p.m., about five hours after she drove herself to the police station in Tracy, Calif., at the request of officers, said Sgt. Tony Sheneman.

"She gave enough information to us during the course of the interview that probable cause was there to arrest her," Sheneman said.

Huckaby was being held without bail at the San Joaquin County Jail in California with arraignment set for Tuesday, according to the county sheriff's Web site. No other arrests were made.

Police did not say how Sandra died or give a possible motive. Sheneman wouldn't go into specifics, but told The Associated Press that interviews with Huckaby in the Tracy Press had revealed inconsistencies that prompted further inquiries from investigators.

During an early morning news conference Saturday, Tracy Police Chief Janet Thiessen said investigators worked the case tirelessly in the hopes of finding Sandra.

"We have information that Sandra, by the time she was reported missing to us, that she probably had already been murdered," said Thiessen.

"It has helped us to bring Sandra home, again not in the way that we would've hoped, but that was out of our hands shortly after she went missing."

The slain girl's aunt, Angie Chavez, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that she was happy to learn of the arrest.

"I want to know why she did it, if she did it," Chavez said.

Huckaby previously told the Tracy Press that Sandra visited her home on March 27, the day of her disappearance, to play with her 5-year-old daughter. But Huckaby said she'd turned Sandra away because her daughter needed to pick up her toys, so Sandra went to another friend's home instead.

Huckaby also said she had left her suitcase in the driveway that day, and it was missing.

That large, dark-colored suitcase was the one in which Sandra's body was found April 6, submerged in an irrigation pond in Tracy, police said.

Huckaby is a granddaughter of Pastor Clifford Lane Lawless, whose Clover Road Baptist Church was the subject of a police search earlier this week.

"It’s not my grandfather’s," Huckaby told the Tracy Press of the missing suitcase. “It’s mine and someone took it.”

Huckaby taught Sunday school at the church and lived with Lawless in the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park that also was Sandra's home.

Lawless did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Saturday.

Huckaby's family had been questioned at length during the investigation, and their home and vehicles had been searched, Sheneman said.

Huckaby was released Thursday from Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, where she spent several days in intensive care for what she described as "internal bleeding," according to the Tracy Press.

Huckaby was scheduled to appear in court on April 17 to check in with a county mental health program as part of a three-year probation sentence for a petty theft she pleaded no contest to.

In an interview with the newspaper on Friday, Huckaby said someone else by the same name was facing charges for the attempted November theft from Target.

On Friday, police announced a $32,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer of Sandra, last seen on surveillance camera skipping down the street away from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, where she lived.

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