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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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