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Saturday, April 11, 2009


An arrest has been made in the murder of eight-year-old Sandra Cantu in the Tracy, Calif.

Sources say the suspect is 28-year-old MELISSA HUCKABY, a neighbor whose own daughter was one of Sandra’s playmates.

Huckaby has been charged with kidnapping and murder.

In a phone interview on Friday, Huckaby told CBS Station KPIX that Sandra visited her home March 27, the day she disappeared. MELISSA HUCKABY also said she had left a suitcase in the driveway that day, and that it was missing.

Sandra’s body was found 10 days after she disappeared, stuffed into a suitcase and dumped in a farm pond.

MELISSA HUCKABY is the granddaughter of the pastor of a nearby church that was searched extensively Friday by police investigators.

MELISSA HUCKABY taught Sunday school at the church, according to The Associated Press.

Soon after that search, MELISSA HUCKABY drove herself to the police station, where she was questioned until early Saturday morning.

KPIX reports that at 2:25 a.m., police drove MELISSA HUCKABY out of their headquarters in an unmarked car, headed for the San Joaquin Jail, where she was booked on charges of kidnapping and murder.

"We have information that by the time (Sandra Cantu) was reported missing to us, she had already been murdered," Police Chief Janet Thiessen told KPIX.

She would not elaborate on Sandra's death nor a possible motive.

KPIX also reports that MELISSA HUCKABY was recently convicted for petty theft in San Joaquin County. According to court records, the judge ordered her to be examined by physicians after Huckaby claimed she was not mentally competent to stand trial. It was determined that she was competent and she pleaded guilty.

MELISSA HUCKABY was also convicted in November of 2006 for petty theft at the Bellflower Superior Court in Los Angeles County.

Cantu's disappearance had left the city of Tracy on edge, wondering how a little girl could just vanish so close to home.

The last time her mother saw Sandra alive, the little girl was going outside to play with friends, and surveillance video taken in their trailer park showed Sandra happily skipping on the trailer park's grounds.

Here is some previous information on how MELISSA HUCKABY attempted to divert suspicion away from her by reporting a stolen suitcase.

It’s a huge suitcase, 28-year-old MELISSA HUCKABY said in a phone interview Friday, waterproof and charcoal-trimmed with an Eddie Bauer logo.

Police have yet to confirm whether it’s the same one found Monday morning that contained Sandra’s dead body.

Farmworkers discovered a suitcase that generally matches MELISSA HUCKABY’s description submerged in a dairy lagoon 2 miles north of the mobile home park where Sandra lived.

For the past year, after moving from Southern California, MELISSA HUCKABY and her 5-year-old daughter has lived at the same mobile home park with Huckaby’s grandparents, Clifford Lane Lawless and Connie Lawless, she said.

Sandra went missing March 27, the same day and in the same late-afternoon hour that MELISSA HUCKABY said the black suitcase disappeared from her driveway.

“There’s been a lot of speculation on the news about what happened to my suitcase,” she said Friday. “It’s not my granddad’s. It’s mine, and someone took it.”

MELISSA HUCKABY teaches Sunday school at Clover Road Baptist Church, her grandfather’s church just down the street from the mobile home park. MELISSA HUCKABY spruces up the church classroom every few months, she said, and had packed up the suitcase with everything she needed to redo the room that day.

Sandra had stopped at her house earlier and asked to play with her daughter, MELISSA HUCKABY said. But MELISSA HUCKABY said she didn’t want her daughter to play, because she had to pick up her toys. So Sandra left for another friend’s house, MELISSA HUCKABY said.

The 18 seconds of surveillance footage that shows Sandra playfully skipping by her family’s home show her on her way back to MELISSA HUCKABY’s home after leaving that other friend’s house, MELISSA HUCKABY said.

After Sandra left, her oldest sister, Miranda, went to MELISSA HUCKABY’s house, too. MELISSA HUCKABY asked Miranda if she could watch her daughter for her while she went down the street to the church. Connie Lawless was home, too.

MELISSA HUCKABY then set the packed suitcase on the driveway by her dark purple Kia SUV — the same one FBI agents and Tracy police detectives towed and searched Tuesday night. But she forgot her cell phone and keys inside the house, so she went back in for about 15 minutes to find them. She couldn’t, so she picked up the spare key and left.

She forgot about the suitcase and left it on the driveway.

When she got to the church, MELISSA HUCKABY’s grandmother called and said she found her keys and cell phone. MELISSA HUCKABY said that’s when she realized she had left the $200 suitcase outside. When her family went out to get it, they said it was gone.

“So I talked to the assistant manager at the mobile home park and asked him to keep an eye out for this suitcase; someone took it,” MELISSA HUCKABY said. “I also told some older kids to look out for it. I didn’t think much then, because, you know, kids were getting out of school, and I thought that maybe someone, maybe someone walking by, just took it.”

She called Tracy police intending to file a report but decided to do it online. She never got around to it.

Her grandfather — whom police also questioned — has had tools stolen, MELISSA HUCKABY said, and she had heard of plenty of petty theft and vandalism at the park. So she said she wasn’t surprised when she discovered her suitcase gone.

But by the time MELISSA HUCKABY had time to file a stolen property report, police had already started knocking on everyone’s door, asking about Sandra.

“They asked me if I noticed anything suspicious, so of course I told them about my missing suitcase,” MELISSA HUCKABY said.

Police questioned her, and she said she gave them permission to search her car for evidence, too.

MELISSA HUCKABY has spent several days since last week in the intensive care unit at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital for “internal bleeding,” though she refused to say exactly what condition she was admitted for. She was released Thursday morning, she said.

Police interviewed MELISSA HUCKABY at the hospital.

“It’s where I was, and I told them that’s where I was, so they came just because they had a few questions to ask me about what I know,” she said.

Dispatchers said over the police scanner on Tuesday that officers were “changing detail” at the hospital, where they had evidently been stationed for several hours.

Court records show a 28-year-old Melissa Huckaby pleaded no contest Jan. 9 to a felony charge of second degree commercial burglary and a misdemeanor charge of property theft with prior theft/burglary/robbery. The criminal complaint says she was locked up in Los Angeles County for conviction of property theft in November 2006 and that she tried to steal something from Target in November last year.

The complaint says she’s on probation in San Joaquin County and is due back in court on April 17, when she might be sentenced.

The documents list the woman’s address as 812 W. Clover Road, Space No. 57, which city property records show is owned by Clifford Lane Lawless and Connie Lawless.

The MELISSA HUCKABY interviewed Friday said that’s not her.

Asked why the address and cell phone number in the court documents match her own, she said she has no idea.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “That’s not me.”

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