STOCKTON—The San Joaquin County Grand Jury says 28 year old Melissa Huckaby must stand trial for the kidnap, rape and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. The Tracy girl was reported missing last March. Her body was found a week and a half later stuffed in a suitcase located in a holding pond.
Huckaby is also charged with drugging another 8 year old girl in January and a Hayward man in two unrelated cases. During today's court hearing, a plea was delayed until Huckaby's public defender, Sam Behar, could examine the Grand Jury indictment and until he can have his own experts test several pieces of physical evidence.
"We really don't want to go to Imperial County or some other county with all the expense involved. We want the case to be tried locally," said Testa.
Testa asked that a trial be set for thirty days after a plea is entered. Testa said several children will be called to testify. "With children, time passes differently.. So it's very important to move the case along. Their memories fade more quickly," said Testa.
But legal analyst and former prosecutor Steven Clark says that's unlikely. "Realistically in a potential death penalty case you would never, never go to trial in 30 days," he said.
Testa also asked Judge Linda Lofthus to insure that Huckaby appear at all court hearings. He referenced an incident this morning involving Huckaby, who had several scratches on her forehead and arm. He would not elaborate because a gag order has been imposed in the case. He did talk about another case involving a jailed murder defendant who three weeks earlier also tried to avoid a hearing.
"He threatened suicide, he banged his head against the walls and Judge Lofthus ordered him to court," said Testa.
Legal analyst Clark says such actions could give the defense more ammunition for a mental incapacity defense strategy. But he also said, "If it's perceived as game plying the court's not going to look kindly on that."
Huckaby is expected to return to court on September 10th to enter a plea and possibly be assigned a date for a trial.