STOCKTON—Former Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby has been sentenced to a prison term of life without the possibility of parole and ordered to pay more than $8,000 in restitution for the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu of Tracy in 2009.
"I can't imagine forgiving someone who harmed my own daughter," a tearful Huckaby said at sentencing Monday morning in reference to claims that the former Clover Road Baptist Church Sunday school teacher molested the 8-year-old child before her death last March.
In addition to the prison sentence, a San Joaquin County judge ordered Huckaby to pay $8,277 in restitution -- the cost of Sandra Cantu's funeral.
A gag order in place since the beginning of the murder trial has been lifted, with information related to the case released as public record Friday at 1:30pm. The judge is allowing time for those who wish to appeal his decision to do so.
Court documents released by the San Joaquin County District Attorney shortly after sentencing revealed Cantu died of "homicidal asphyxiation" and was assaulted with a rolling pin.
A suitcase that was found with the contents of Cantu's body also contained a bloody cloth tied into a noose, court documents revealed.
Cantu was reported missing from her Tracy mobile home park March 28th by family members who told authorities she had planned on playing with a friend. The body of the 8-year-old was recovered from a sealed suitcase found in an irrigation canal April 7th.
The following day, Huckaby told FOX40 News and local newspaper The Tracy Press her suitcase was reported stolen from the driveway of her mobile home the day Cantu went missing. Authorities contradicted Huckaby's statement by saying no police report was ever filed. Huckaby, whose daughter regularly played with Cantu, told reporters her suitcase was filled with Sunday school supplies.
Huckaby's interview with various media outlets, including FOX40 News, led authorities to suspect the Sunday school teacher in connection with the disappearance and murder of Cantu. Huckaby was arrested April 8th.
On May 21st, Huckaby received an additional charge of "providing a harmful substance" to a 7-year-old girl after it was determined she was involved in January 2009. Huckaby was also charged with slipping a drug substance to a man identified as Daniel Plowman in March.
Under a plea agreement reached May 10th, all other charges against Huckaby -- including allegations that the former Sunday school teacher raped Cantu with a foreign object -- were dropped.