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2010 - June 18 - Judge Lofthus unsealed documents in the Sandra Cantu murder case.
She has ruled however, that images and exhibits that show autopsy
photos will remain sealed. The autopsy report has been released as
the details were testified to in court. Also to remain sealed are records
pertaining a 7 year old child Huckaby was accused of drugging prior
to Sandra Cantu's murder.
Archie Bakerink (Attorney for Maria Chavez) "The family’s primary objective was
always to keep the autopsy report and autopsy photos sealed, and the family is “very
pleased” with Lofthus’ ruling that keeps the autopsy photos sealed forever."
2008 - November - Melissa Huckaby is alleged to have committed theft at a Target store.
2009 - January - Melissa Huckaby (28) pled no contest to a felony charge of
second degree commercial burglary and a misdemeanor charge of property theft
The criminal complaint stated she served time in Los Angeles County and is on
probation in San Joaquin County. She is due back in court for sentencing on April 17th.
Tracy police "Huckaby has been diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenia,
and court records show that a year before killing Sandra she was sent to a court
psychiatrist after stealing from a Target store in Tracy, California."
MOTIVES FOR MURDER
Thomas Testa (San Joaquin Prosecutor)
“I would say that Melissa was tempted by these girls, and that when she got a hold of
Sandra, she went a little too far. [Maybe] Sandra started saying she was going to tell
her mom, and Melissa got scared and tried to silence her. It’s hard for me to believe
that Sandra Cantu did not suffer, there is strong evidence of sexual assault and of
Sandra being force-fed drugs and alcohol."
"Asphyxiation is a slow and painful way to die. I don'n buy into the theory her mental
state was unstable because there is so much showing that she is lucid.”
"Huckaby's attempts to divert attention from herself show that she was sane."
Tim Bauer (Tracy, California Police Detective) "After interviewing family and friends
of Huckaby, I learned that she had issues with sharing people that were close to her
with others, such as her daughter. Huckaby told ne that Sandra would come over to play
with her daughter between 10 to 15 times a day, and I think that maybe Huckaby
wanted her daughter all to herself."
“Melissa didn’t tell me why she did what she did. She could make excuses and say it’s
because she’s bi-polar… We don’t know that. She claimed to be taking her medications
regularly when I interviewed her the day she was arrested.
“I don’t know what the benefit to killing Sandra is except that she gets her out of the
picture if she’s super-jealous to the point where she doesn’t want her around.
I don’t know if things got carried away in the church.”
I would like to sit down and talk to Huckaby someday to find out exactly in what
order everything happened. Why did she sexually assault her? Did she do it for
her own gratification? Did she do it because she was in a manic rage?”
"She could have sexually assaulted her to redirect the investigation toward a man."
Official cause of death is listed as "homicidal asphyxiation."
Dr. Bennet Omalu (Forensic Pathologist) "The way the child's body was arranged
in the uitcase after the killing showes that it was premeditated. What struck me
was the meticulous nature of the crime. Sandra was redressed neatly, with her
black leggings folded tidily at her lower thigh, still in her pink Hello Kitty shirt.
Her plastic Hannah Montana sandals were placed at the bottom of the suitcase,
and her body folded in a "perfect fetal position" inside the case. This was not
something heat of the moment. This was a very calm, calculating mind at work.
That pointed to a woman."
Prosecutor Thomas Testa "A guy's not going to even dress her, is he?"
Omalu "No, no.. (He'd) dump her."
"Sandra, based on lacerations to her lower lip, was smothered to death. Rubbing
alcohol and traces of Alprazolam (Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug) was found in her
Despite Melissa Huckaby's claims that Sandra wasn't sexually molested or suffered,
Dr. Omalu found evidence of a painful sexual assault. "Sandra was strangled with a
blood soaked, torn piece of cloth knotted into a noose, drugged with prescription
sedatives, battered with a rolling pin, and cut on her lip, scraped on her elbow, and
bruised around her genitalia." There is also isopropyl alcohol on the cloth used to
smother Sandra." "There were injuries to the external genitalia which were consistent
with the diameter of the rolling pin handles."
PRE-MEDITATION & PRACTICING POISON
2009 - January - Prosecutors and detectives fond in their investigation that Melissa
Huckaby (allegedly) kidnapped another 7 year old girl livinig in the same trailer park
as herself and Sandra Cantu.
Thomas Testa (Prosecutor) "Huckaby alleged that the girl’s grandmother knew she was
with Huckaby, but the grandmother denied the claim. The girl was seen around 1:30 P.M.
in the afternoon Jan. 17, 2009, and went missing until around 5 p.m. when she returned
to the trailer park in Huckaby’s car.
Huckaby reportedly took a playmate of her own daughter out “to the park."
Lora Polk (mother of the girl) "They were gone for four hours." She was unaware
of her daughter being with Huckaby. When she couldn't find her daughter, she
called the police. There was a search which was halted when Melissa Huckaby drove
up and dropped the child at her home. "I hugged her and then took her to get
some dinner. On the way there she started slumping over. She slurred her words.
"I drank some "funny tasting water, like medicine."
Something wasn't right. So I rushed her to the hospital. A urine sample tested
positive for benzodiazepine and police searched Polk's home. They found no
drugs similar to Xanax or Ativan or any drug containing benzodiazepines which
are alike to those drugs. The police fail to test the child for sexual assault
(not until after Sandra Cantu is murdered and Huckaby is arrested.)
Melissa Huckaby is questioned but police don't have a strong enough case to
Lora Polk "They (police) called me up after Sandra Cantu’s disappearance
to express their regrets. Police should have done more when they first heard
about how my daughter got drugged. I want to know what stopped them."
2009 - March 2 - Criminal complaint - Melissa Huckaby allegedly mixed “a harmful
substance with food or drink with the intent that the same be taken by a human being."
Daniel Plowman, (37) a former ex-boyfriend of Melissa Huckaby "She gave
me something from a Tupperware container that was “very bitter — like sucking
on an aspirin.” Plowman is not on any prescription meds and says he doesn't
take anything other than ibuprofen.
March 3 - 1:30 A.M. - Plowman is found 5 minutes from Huckaby's home,
passed out in the drive through of McDonalds. Plowman had ordered and paid for
an order of food before passing out. When he comes to, he is disoriented and
drives into a wall. He has no memory of getting behind the wheel.Police take
him into custody and he is charged with DUI. Traces of Xanax and ativan are
found in his system. Charges are not pressed against him and he is released.
Detective Tim Bauer "These two instances could have been practice for drugging
Sandra. I don't believe Huckaby had any intent to kill the 7-year-old girl or her
ex-boyfriend. I thinks she drugged the 7-year-old girl to see the effects the drugs
would have on a child with similar height and weight to Sandra.
“All we know is that we had the same drug in three people three different times,
and the last person was found dead. She did her research. She had already
seen twice what the medication would do to a grown adult and a child.”
"I believe the murder was planned down to the detail of using a suitcase."
EVIDENCE OF MURDER
Just after Sandra Cantu's disappearance Huckaby texted her grandmother Connie Lawless.
Melissa Huckaby text "I see they say it's a crime scene. I hope she wasn't sexually
The day after Sandra disappears:
Maria Chavez (mother of Sandra Cantu) receives a text from Huckaby.
Maria Chavez " I thought it was odd, I had never before received a text from Huckaby.
The text instructed me"to tell (police) that I had something stolen today around 4 P.M.
I don't know if that makes a difference or not." "At that time...I wasn't worried about
her suitcase. I was worried about my daughter."
2009 - March 27 - 3:00 P.M. - Sandra Cantu goes over to a friend"s house nearby to play.
3:54 P.M. A security camera at the Orchard Estates Mobile Home
Park captures her skipping on the way to another friend's
house. She is seen suddenly looking over in the direction
where Melissa Huckaby lived, then walks out of the view of
the surveillance camera.
8 minutes later -
Melissa Huckaby drives away from the park with Sandra Cantu in her SUV,
turning in the direction of Clover Road Baptist Church, where her grandfather
was the pastor and she was a Sunday school teacher. About this time,
Huckaby calls the mobile home park manager to say "my Eddie Bauer suitcase
has been stolen from the front of my trailer."
1 hour and 25 minutes: the security camera shows Huckaby driving away from the
Investigators believe Huckaby killed Sandra at the church and tried to cover her tracks
by leaving her cell phone at home and making calls "” including one to her grandmother "
from the church phone."
Police state Sandra Cantu's lifeless body was in a suitcase and dumped into the water
less than two hours after being seen on the security camera.
30 minutes later: A retired U.S. Marine and his wife see Huckaby at an irrigation pond
at Bacchetti and Whitehall roads. Huckaby tells them "I had to urinate."
THE "FOUND" NOTE & POINTING A FINGER AT A NEIGHBOR
2009 - March 28 - While Tracy Police officers and FBI are on scene, a hysterical and
hyperventilating Melissa Huckaby approaches them and claims she "found" a note
in the neighborhood. The garbled note is misspelled. "CANTU LOCKED IN STOLIN
SUITCASE THROWN IN WATER ONN BACCHETTI RD & WHITEALL RD. WITNESS"
Detective Bauer "Huckaby first became a suspect when she “found” the note.That
was the investigation’s first contact with Huckaby, who said her daughter was friends
with Sandra." "Huckaby said Cantu had come over to her mobile home to play with
her 5-year-old daughter on the day she disappeared. Huckaby said Cantu left for
another friend's home when told her daughter was too busy cleaning up her toys."
FBI agents speak with Huckaby in her home. They ask her to explain "how she
"found" the note." They had her walk with them around the trailer park and
asked her to suggest neighbors who could be responsible for Sandra's kidnapping.
Melissa Huckaby offers up a neighbor, Christian Sinclair, among others, as a suspect.
Detective Bauer "Police investigated Sinclair, but were able to rule him out."
"FBI officials said her behavior was uncommon because she appeared overly
excited when she found the note, but calmed down quickly. He said her
reaction to the note was “a front” and she had to appear excited about it
even though she wrote it."
"I have several theories on why Huckaby approached the FBI with the note.
One theory is that she wrote the note and gave it to the FBI because she
wanted them to find Sandra. He also said she might have wanted to insert
herself in the investigation because she is an “attention seeker.”
"She could have been testing the police to see if they would go search the
dairy pond in rural Tracy."
Agent Michael Conrad (FBI Special Agent) "I found it strange that she
immediately went into a flat calm, telling us "she had a suitcase stolen from
her the previous day. We commented to each other how unusual it was that
a woman who reported losing a suitcase "should be the one woman out of
everyone in this complex who should happen to find a note that reports that t
he stolen suitcase was used to hide the child's body."
Another FBI agent "Huckaby told authorities the suitcase was large enough
to contain a child's body."
Prosecutor Testa "Her demeanor led detectives to peg her as a suspect. “She
was too excited when she found it,” says Testa. “I think her attitude was abnormal,
and gave her away, early on.” Whether she fabricated the note out of some type of
pathological urge to insert herself into the investigation, however, is still unclear.
If she were trying to help, she could have done something much earlier. She wouldn"t
cut the cord of a blind, and tie the suitcase and dump it."
SEARCHING THE PONDS
Detective Tim Bauer "Police repeatedly searched the area of the ponds, including on
the night Huckaby reported the note. We could not send in divers because the pond
was filled with manure and other waste. Cadaver dogs were ineffective due to the stench
and methane gas."
10 days later
2007 - April 6 - In an irrigation pond 2 miles north of the mobile home park where the
witnesses reported seeing Melissa Huckaby - a farmer finds a suitcase
floating on the water and reports it to police.
Inside the large black suitcase, Sandra Cantu's lifeless body is found.
Huckaby finds out that police have found the suitcase and tries to commit
suicide. Her ex-husband "she swallowed three razor blades." Huckaby is
rushed to hospital where she is treated for internal bleeding.
Authorities speak with Melissa Huckaby in her hospital room and inform her that Sandra
Cantu has been found. A detective asks Huckaby "Do you know what happened?"
Melissa Huckaby "I thought it was obvious that..I think she was taken.
Why do people hurt other people? Because they are sick in the head. Disgusting."
THE CHURCH CRIME SCENE
Sandra Cantu's family "Sandra had never been in the church before."
Evidence is collected from a shed on church property.
Inside the church are blood splatters.
A metal rolling pin with a bent handle and a bloody smudge (with Sandra's DNA)
is found in a kitchen drawer in the church.
A half-empty bottle of rubbing alcohol is found inside the church
A blind from the church is missing a cord.
FBI expert "The remaining cords were consistent in every way with one that
was used to bind shut the suitcase that contained Sandra"s body."
Detective Tim Bauer "Melissa wasn’t prepared for us to find those things.
She didn’t clean up good enough.”
"All the evidence indicates that Huckaby acted alone. Her grandparents were
babysitting her daughter and Sandra’s sister at the time. We are certain they
had no knowledge of the crime."
HUCKABY'S HOME & PURSE
EVIDENCE: Alprazolam (prescription) bottles are found in Huckaby"s purse.
(A drug found in Sandra Cantu's remains)
FBI agents found a notebook with "Cute but psycho. Things will even out" printed
on the cover. On the pages they find indentations matching the letters from the note.
2009 - April 10 - Melissa Huckaby is arrested and placed on suicide watch at the
San Joaquin County Jail. In interviews with police Huckaby tells
detectives "Sandra's death was an accident."
James Willett (Prosecutor) "I decided to make the plea agreement largely because
of the expense of a capital case that would likely be moved to Southern California,
followed by perhaps decades of appeal. Quite frankly, right now California"s death
penalty is a complete joke."
Janet Thiessen (Tracy Police Chief) "I think Huckaby took the plea deal in part
because it removed sex charges that could have prohibited her from communicating
with her daughter."
Melissa Huckaby pled Guilty to the Murder & Kidnap of Sandra
Cantu. Per the plea deal, the death penalty, sexual abuse charges,
the drugging of a 7 year old child, the drugging of an ex-boyfriend,
and her previous theft charges were dropped in exchange for a
sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutor Testa "She lied to me when I spoke to her the day before her arrest about
her missing suitcase. She lied to police that someone stole it. She lied when she gave
police a note that read, “Cantu locked in stolin (sic) suitcase in water on Bacchetti Rd.
and Whitehall Rd. witness,” and said she happened across it, even though police say
she wrote it herself. And I think she lied in court Monday when she said Sandra was
not raped and that she did not suffer. I find that statement strange. I don't believe a jury
would buy those comments."
Judy Lawless (Huckaby’s mother) “I understand the anger that you must have.
“I would be angry, too.” If I could take this all away I would, but I can’t. “If I could
give you justice, the justice that you deserve, that would be to have your baby
girl in your arms right now. From mother to mother, I am so sorry.”
SANDRA'S FAMILY STATEMENTS
Angie Chavez (aunt) Daniel Cantu (father), Connie Cantu (paternal grandmother),
Simone (sister), Maria Chavez (mother) and others were present in the courtroom.
Maria Chavez (Sandra Cantu's mother) "There is no forgiveness. It's difficult to
understand why she (Huckaby) killed Sandra. I can't forgive somebody that took
my little girl from me."
Daniel Cantu (Sandra Cantu's father) "You took the life of an innocent girl ....
she"s not old enough to decide to eat ice cream yet,"
Angie Chavez presented a slideshow of photos that were taken throughout Sandra's
life, from birth, to the last sight of her on the security camera video.
Angie Chavez "Our world has forever been changed. Sandra wasn’t the only victim
affected by what (Huckaby) has done. Our family, the Tracy community and the
whole world became victims when she murdered Sandra.”
“Seeing these images of Sandra are bittersweet. The video of her skipping down the
street will forever be etched in our minds, and the pain of knowing that she was so
close to home and we couldn’t protect her from Ms. Huckaby is unimaginable.”
“All we have left are pictures, videos and memories of Sandra that remind us of the
innocent, sweet and larger-than-life person that she was. We hope that as Ms.
Huckaby watched this video that she will forever be haunted by the pictures and by
what she has done.”
Melissa Huckaby accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to Life in Prison without
possibility of Parole. Huckaby has no recourse to appeals.