Defense Drops Bid to Exhume Cantu Body

Police said Melissa Huckaby, the woman charged in the homicide of 8-year-old Tracy girl Sandra Cantu, is a suspect in one or two house fires in Southern California, according to police. However, police said she would not be charged in that case.

Reporter Jodi Hernandez talked with the La Palma police department in Orange County on Tuesday.

Huckaby had rented a room in a home in La Palma and arson was to blame for a minor fire and later a moderate fire in the same house.

Police confirm Huckaby is a suspect in at least one or possibly two fires that occurred in July 2007.

A week before Huckaby was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Cantu, La Palma police contacted the Tracy Police Department.

Police said Huckaby's current arrest takes priority over the fires, so the La Palma investigation will stop and she will not be charged in that case.

Also Tuesday, a California judge issued a gag order in the case.
San Joaquin County Superior Court judge Linda Lofthus imposed the gag order Tuesday, which prohibits parties involved from publicly discussing the case against Huckaby.

The order came on the same day Huckaby's attorneys said they will drop a request to exhume Sandra Cantu's body for a second autopsy. Last week, Huckaby's lawyers argued they would have no way to fight the rape allegation if their own pathologist could not evaluate Sandra's body.

Before the gag order, public defender Peter Fox told the San Francisco Chronicle that the exhumation was unnecessary because the county medical examiner had preserved tissue samples that the defense's experts could test.

"It will not be necessary to disturb the child's remains," Fox told the paper. "From a human point of view, certainly it's nice not to have to do that."

Sandra's cause of death and the results of toxicology tests have not been released.

The 28-year-old Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher and granddaughter of a minister, is being held without bail at the San Joaquin County Jail. She faces charges of murder with three special circumstances: kidnapping, rape with a foreign object and lewd or lascivious conduct with a child.

The special circumstances mean Huckaby could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, if convicted. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Huckaby lived down the street from the Cantu family and her daughter was one of Sandra's playmates.

Sandra disappeared on March 27 and hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials turned out to search for her. Her body was found in a suitcase on April 6 in an irrigation pond by dairy farmworkers about two miles from her home.

Police have not said how, where or why Sandra was killed.

Huckaby is scheduled return to court on Friday, when she's expected to enter a plea.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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