Details of Sandra's Death Will Torture Us: Cantu's Family

Family of girl found in suitcase makes move to block details of her killing

Thursday, May 20, 2010  |  Updated 5:30 PM PDT
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Details of Sandra's Death Will Torture Us: Cantu's Family

AP

A woman pick up items to clean up the area at a memorial for Sandra Cantu in Tracy, Calif., Thursday, April 9, 2009, near the home of Cantu. The body of Cantu, 8, was discovered inside a suitcase in an irrigation pond on Monday, April 6, 2009 after she was last seen at her home on March 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

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The family of a Northern California girl who was killed by a former Sunday school teacher has filed a protective order to prevent details of her murder from being publicly released.
     
Lawyers for Sandra Cantu's family said in documents filed this week in San Joaquin County Superior Court that three news organizations' formal request to release details about the 8-year-old's death last year subjects the family to "an unwarranted media spectacle."

"Disclosure of this material is not only morally reprehensible, but unconstitutional," attorneys Stewart Tabak and G. Archer Bakerink wrote. "(Their request) fail to present any legitimate explanation or justification as to why is it that the graphic, salacious and repulsive details surrounding this young victim's tragic killing are necessary for public consumption."

Even Sandra's reticent mother, Maria Chavez, said in a declaration filed Thursday that she is "tortured" by her daughter's death. She said any investigative information released "will cause devastating trauma to my (other) children and me."

Citing high public interest, The Associated Press, Bay Area News Group and the Record of Stockton, Calif., filed a court motion last week challenging a judge's decision to keep a yearlong gag order and sealed court records intact, despite Melissa Huckaby pleading guilty to murdering Sandra in March 2009 in Tracy, Calif.

"Because much of this case has been shrouded in secrecy ... the fairness of the deal to Huckaby, the people of the State of California, and the family of Sandra Cantu deserves greater scrutiny," Duffy Carolan, a San Francisco-based attorney jointly representing the news organizations, said in the filing.

The news organizations' filing also said that many underlying facts and information about the incident, ranging from the police investigation to Huckaby's plea, remain largely unknown.

But Tabak argued that Sandra's family has a right to privacy, citing a 2008 state constitutional amendment dubbed Marsy's Law, which gives victims and their families more input into criminal cases.

Chavez said in her declaration that her family has no desire to know the specifics surrounding Sandra's kidnapping and murder.

"Every member of my family carries constant regrets and a sense of guilt over things we could have done differently," Chavez said. "Not one of us needs additional reminders of the horrible crimes Sandra suffered."

San Joaquin County Judge Linda Lofthus is set to hear the parties' arguments on May 24 in Stockton.

A former Sunday school teacher, Huckaby, 29, faces 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole when she is sentenced June 14.

Legal experts have said the judge could be waiting to lift the orders until after sentencing.

The incident drew national attention after a 10-day search for Sandra -- a playmate of Huckaby's daughter -- ended when her body was found stuffed in a black suitcase pulled from an irrigation pond a few miles from a mobile home park where they lived.

Huckaby was arrested less than a week later after telling a reporter that the suitcase that contained Sandra's body was hers, but that it had been stolen out of her driveway the day Sandra disappeared.
     
Before her surprise confession last week, Huckaby's death penalty trial was scheduled to begin in October.

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