Sunday School Teacher Pleads Guilty to
(May 10) -- The California Sunday School teacher accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering her daughter's playmate, 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, today struck a plea
deal that will spare her the death penalty but land her in prison for life without parole.
The surprise development came during what was expected to be a routine hearing at San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton, Calif. Melissa Huckaby, 29, pleaded guilty to murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping for killing Sandra, stuffing her body in a suitcase and dumping it in an irrigation pond near the mobile home park in Tracy, Calif., where both Sandra and the Huckabys lived.
All other charges were dropped, including rape with an instrument and lewd or lascivious conduct with a child.
Handout / AP
Melissa Huckaby, here in April 2009, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday.
Huckaby, who previously faced the death penalty, will go to prison for life as part of the plea deal. She will be formally sentenced June 14.
Sandra's remains were found on April 6, 2009, 10 days after the second-grader was last seen on a surveillance camera, skipping to Huckaby's home for a play date with her daughter.
Judge Linda Lofthus questioned Huckaby directly about her mental state, after prosecutors suggested the former Sunday school teacher could use her mental instability as an excuse to later switch her plea. Huckaby has taken prescription medication for depression and has been placed on suicide watch while in jail.
"Are you having any problems today?" Lofthus asked Huckaby, according to Sacramento television station KXTV
. "No, I'm not," Huckaby replied.
When Lofthus asked if she felt OK, Huckaby replied: "I'm currently stable on my medication."
Reports said Huckaby appeared calm throughout the hearing, even smiling as she spoke to her attorneys before the hearing began.
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