updated 5/10/2010 12:46:17 PM ET 2010-05-10T16:46:17

A California Sunday school teacher accused of kidnapping, raping and killing an 8-year-old playmate of her daughter, then stuffing the body in a suitcase, pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree murder.

Melissa Huckaby, 29, entered the plea in San Joaquin County Superior Court before a hearing over evidence that had been scheduled for later in the day. Her trial had been set to begin in October.

A grand jury had indicted Huckaby on the murder charge with the special circumstances of rape, kidnapping and lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under 14, which would have made her eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

Authorities say Huckaby killed Sandra, a playmate of her young daughter, in March 2009. A search for the girl ended after 10 days when her body was found stuffed in a black suitcase pulled from an irrigation pond a few miles from the mobile home park where both the child and the defendant lived.

Sandra was last seen on a surveillance camera skipping near her home just five doors down from Huckaby.

Huckaby also had been charged with previously drugging a 7-year-old girl and a 37-year-old man, whom police believe she had been dating.

The woman faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole when she's sentenced June 14 in the Cantu case, according to Assistant Court Executive Officer Sharon Morris.

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