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No plea entered in Cantu murder

April 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prosecutors have turned over recordings and 500 pages of evidence to attorneys defending a 28-year-old woman charged in the slaying of a Northern California girl found dead in a suitcase, the San Joaquin County District Attorney's office said Friday.At Melissa Huckaby's second court appearance since her arrest for the murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa said his office would provide additional materials to the defense in coming weeks.

Also Friday, Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus granted the prosecution's request to seal autopsy and toxicology reports. The judge said she was sealing the documents out of respect to the girl's family and the need to protect Huckaby's right to a fair trial.

"This is the kind of case we've never experienced before in San Joaquin County," Lofthus said.

Prosecutors allege Huckaby murdered Sandra, her daughter's 8-year-old playmate, and they charged her with the special circumstances of rape, kidnapping and lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under 14.

Huckaby was arrested April 10, just days after Sandra's body was found in a suitcase pulled from an irrigation pond near her home in a Tracy mobile home park.

If convicted on any of the special circumstances, Huckaby could face the death penalty. Prosecutors have not decided whether to pursue the death penalty.

Huckaby, shackled and dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, spoke only to her attorney during the 10 minute proceeding, and did not enter a plea. Public defender Sam Behar asked the judge for more time to review the evidence.

Behar also withdrew a request to exhume Sandra's body so a defense pathologist could do a second autopsy. Earlier this week, the public defender's office said the tissue samples it had sought had been preserved by the coroner. Sandra's cause of death has not been disclosed.

Several members of Sandra's family attended the hearing in T-shirts with the girl's picture and the words "Justice for Sandra."

Huckaby's father, grandmother and aunt were also at the hearing. The two families left through separate exits.

Huckaby is being held without bail at San Joaquin County jail. She's expected back in court May 22.


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