New and gruesome details about the death of an eight-year-old Tracy child were released on the day the girl's killer was sentenced to life in prison.
On Monday a former Sunday school teacher named Melissa Huckaby made a tearful apology in open court to the child's family.
The judge sentenced Huckaby to life in prison for killing 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. Read more about a very emotional sentencing hearing here.
Huckaby offered no motive for the 2009 killing. "I still cannot understand why I did what I did. This is a question I will struggle with for the rest of my life," Huckaby said.
After court, the prosecutor released new documents that explained how she did what she did. We want to warn some of the details are graphic.
According to the probation report,Huckaby told investigators she was trying to play hide and seek with Sandra and suggested she get in the suitcase and jump out to scare Huckaby's daughter and Sandra's sister. Huckaby said Sandra agreed. Huckaby said she zipped up the suitcase but then forgot the child was inside it. She said when she got to the church and remembered, "she unzipped the case and the victim appeared to be lifeless." Huckaby said she tried to do CPR. She said she also took a small towel, wet it, and placed it on her forehead to cool her off. Huckaby said she freaked out and didn't know what to do. "Her head was spinning out of control and she was not thinking straight," according to the report. She said then she decided to dump the suitcase in the pond.
The prosecution summary of the case does not support that story. It says on March 28, 2009 Huckaby showed authorities a handwritten note she claimed she found in her trailer park that read: "Cantu locked in stolin suitcase thrown in water onn Bacchetti Rd. and Whitehall Rd witness." The misspellings were from a direct copy of the note.
It goes on to say after finding the suitcase on April 6, police searched the church in the neighborhood where Huckaby was a member and Sunday school teacher. They found a rolling pin with a bent handle and a bloody smudge. That blood contained Sandra Cantu's DNA. They also discovered one of the blinds was missing part of its draw cord, which and FBI expert determined to be consistent with cord used to tie shut the suitcase.
The San Joaquin County pathologist determine Sandra Cantu suffered a cut to her lower inner lip and an abrasion on her left elbow. She also had injuries to external genitalia that were consistent with the diameter of the rolling pin handles. He listed cause of death "homicidal asphyxiation." He found a piece of torn cloth tied around her head. It was soiled with blood and knotted into a noose.
Toxicological analysis revealed her body contained alprazolam, which is a second generation of Benzodiazepine. A prescription bottle if Alprazolam was found in Huckaby's purse.
"It's hard for me to believe that Sandra Cantu did not suffer," Deputy District Attorney Tom Testa said following the hearing.
District Attorney James Willett said he was satisfied with the plea deal as a way to avoid a costly trial that could drag on for years. He believes the outcome would have been the same, with a jury sentencing Huckaby to a life term. "California's death penalty is a joke," he said.
Defense attorney Sam Behar declined comment outside court.
Prior to Monday, authorities have released few details about the March 2009 killing.
At the sentencing, Lofthus lifted a gag order that had been in place since last year. In a separate hearing, Loftus agreed to unseal search warrant affidavits and grand jury transcripts in the case. The documents were not immediately made available, however, because the victim's family was considering whether to appeal that ruling.
Sandra was last seen on a surveillance video walking through the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park on March 29, 2009.
A massive search ended 10 days later when her body was found stuffed in a black suitcase pulled from the pond a few miles from the community where she lived.