Video: Sandra Cantu’s family addresses killer’s plea

  1. Closed captioning of: Sandra Cantu’s family addresses killer’s plea

    >>> english teacher .

    >>> but let's begin this half hour with some serious news. that sentencing handed down on monday for the california woman who pleaded guilty to the brutal murder of 8-year-old sandra cantu . in just a moment we'll talk exclusively to cantu 's mother, aunt and uncle. first nbc's george lewis is in tracy , california, with the latest on this story. george, good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, ann. the big question that hangs over this tragedy, more than a year after the discovery of sandra cantu 's body, is why would melissa huckaby want to kill her? huckaby still has no explanation for that.

    >> not a day, not an hour goes by that i don't think about the harm that i caused. i loved sandra a great deal. she was a sweet, innocent little girl who did not deserve to have such a short life. i am responsible for sandra 's death.

    >> reporter: in her statement melissa huckaby herself still could not explain the reason for sandra cantu 's death.

    >> i wish i could give you an explanation for what happened. i owe you an explanation. you still cannot understand why i did what i did. every day i try to discover the motivation, but i still do not have an answer. that's a question i will struggle with for the rest of my life. in my heart you live on

    >> reporter: sandra 's family played a video documenting the little girl 's short life as huckaby wept. the presentation ended with is your veilance video, the last pictures of sandra alive.

    >> the video of her skipping down the street will forever be etched in our minds, and the pain knowing she was so close to home and we couldn't protect her from miss huckaby is unimaginable, a pain that she caused.

    >> it took the life of an innocent little girl and she didn't do nothing.

    >> reporter: sandra 's body was found in this pond inside a suitcase owned by huckaby. and last year when huckaby, thinner and with longer hair, confess confessed, police now reveal her first explanation was that she did not intend to kill sandra .

    >> she claimed that she played a game of hide and seek with sandra cantu in the suitcase that was recovered in the pond.

    >> reporter: and police say huckaby told them sandra accidentally smothered inside the suitcase.

    >> in her mind, a horrific accident where she panicked and didn't know what to do so she dumped the body.

    >> reporter: the prosecution says autopsy results tell a different story, that sandra had been drugged, smothered with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol and sexually molested . addressing sandra 's parents, huckaby denied that last part.

    >> i would like to apologize directly to you, maria , for all the pain i have caused you. i should not have taken sandra from you and i want you to know she did not suffer and i did not sexually molest your daughter.

    >> i found that statement strange and i don't think the jury would have accepted it.

    >> reporter: but a jury never got to hear the case when huckaby changed her plea to guilty so that she could avoid the death penalty . in a separate incident, huckaby was accused of drugging another little girl and a man. charges dropped as part of the plea agreement . now police theorize huckaby may have been rehearsing the killing of sandra cantu but still no explanation as to why. ann?

    >> george lewis this morning. george, thanks. maria chavez is joining us along with angie and joe chavez, sandra 's aunt and uncle. good morning to all of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> maria , when you heard melissa huckaby was being sentenced to life behind bars , did you feel the punishment was enough?

    >> yes, i did.

    >> so you're satisfied with that? when you heard her apology, when you heard her say that she believed that god had forgiven her and she asked you to forgive her as well, did you think that you could? can you forgive her, maria ?

    >> no. no, i can't. i can't forgive somebody that took my little girl from me.

    >> has this verdict -- has her apology given you any comfort?

    >> no.

    >> she said, i still cannot understand why i did this. so when you try to think about all you know about your neighbor and why she would have done this, i mean, as any mother would, do you have any answers?

    >> no, i don't. i don't know why she did this to my little girl .

    >> so how are you making sense this morning about all of this? i mean, this is so soon after the verdict. what is in your mind now as you replay all the events since the disappearance of your daughter?

    >> very difficult. it's very difficult to understand.

    >> angie , you asked in court for the court to play a video of sandra as she was growing up. it was a very emotional moment leaving a lot of people in tears. we're looking at some images now of sandra including melissa huckaby who also was in tears. i'm guessing that you wanted people to understand who this little girl was and how important she was.

    >> yes. yeah, i wanted to show her growing up and i wanted to show melissa what she took away from us.

    >> and, maria , you had asked the judge to keep the details of this case private. there was some concern, as i understand, that you didn't want your family traumatized, knowing specifically what had happened to sandra . but the judge decided to lift the gag order. is there anything, maria , you want to say about that?

    >> no. i'm happy that she kept the autopsy photos sealed. i don't want to see those.

    >> there is -- the judge has also agreed to unseal the search warrants and also the grand jury transcripts and including more details and my understanding is that there is a possibility that those photographs could be revealed. would you fight this? would you appeal any movement to reveal more details including those photographs? maria ?

    >> we would have to refer to our lawyer. we can't answer that question.

    >> i see. let me just ask you about this because i know all this material is tough and i'm sorry to ask these questions of you, but i do know that you've gotten a lot of support from the community. joe , maybe you can speak to that. how important has the support been from the community to help your family during this time and what kind of support have you gotten?

    >> i think the support we got from the city of tracy has been phenomenal. i think that if every city and every state -- if every citizen acted to murder the way the citizens of tracy acted and with outrage, i think there probably would be a lot less murders.

    >> and i understand they've been delivering food every night, and there's been a lot of show of support and that's something tracy has a lot to be proud of. maria , angie and joe , we wish you -- i know everyone listening wishes you comfort as you move forward. thank you so much for joining us this morning.

    >> thank you.

    >> thank you.

    >> thank you.

    >>> and now let's switch gears

updated 6/19/2010 7:35:11 AM ET 2010-06-19T11:35:11

The evidence against her mounted, but Melissa Huckaby stuck to her story as police questioned her in April 2009: She had nothing to do with the abduction, rape and murder of an 8-year-old neighbor girl.

"She's the type of person that thought she could always explain her way out of situations," Tracy Police Det. Nate Cogburn told the grand jury that would charge Huckaby in Sandra Cantu's death. "And that was clearly what she thought she was going to do in this case."

More than 1,800 pages of grand jury transcripts and other documents were released Friday, shedding some light on the young Sunday school teacher who eventually pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murdering her daughter's playmate . Huckaby, 29, has never revealed her motive and investigators have been at a loss to explain why she did it.

"There are so many unanswered questions that we will never know," prosecutor Thomas Testa said.

What emerges from the documents is a portrait of a depressed woman with a troubled past and a penchant for cutting herself, her family said.

'Calm, calculating mind'
According to a probation report, she described her childhood as "kind of rough" and said she was raped by a police officer when she was 19. She said she was diagnosed as bipolar and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy, testified that Sandra's killer showed a "calm, calculating mind at work."

The way the body of 8-year-old victim was placed in the suitcase after the killing showed the work was likely premeditated, Omalu said during the July 2009 hearings. He testified that Sandra suffered mightily before she died of suffocation and was undoubtedly sexually assaulted.

"This was not something heat of the moment," Omalu said.

That calculating mind also on display the night of March 28, 2009, when Sandra was still missing and neighbors held a candlelight vigil in the mobile home community where Huckaby and Sandra lived.

Hannah Montana slippers
During the vigil, a hyperventilating and tearful Huckaby ran up to investigators clutching a misspelled note she claimed to have found wedged in a nearby wall, according to the transcripts. The note said Sandra had been "stolin" and dumped in a nearby pond.

The girl, clad in a Hello Kitty T-shirt and Hannah Montana slippers, was indeed found stuffed in a suitcase submerged in the pond. It turned out that Huckaby wrote the letter, prosecutors said.

Video: Woman arrested in Sandra Cantu slaying

Two days before the suitcase containing Sandra's body was pulled from an irrigation pond, Huckaby checked herself into a hospital after swallowing a razor blade.

The documents showed Huckaby told investigators she accidentally swallowed the blade while sleepwalking. Prosecutor Testa contended the action showed the "consciousness of guilt."

Police quickly zeroed in on Huckaby as the prime suspect after Sandra's body was found.

Still, she kept up her innocence claim.

"Why would someone want to take her," Huckaby told police from her hospital bed. "Why do people hurt other people...because they are sick in their heads...disgusting."

She even tried to bamboozle her grandmother during her hospital stay.

"I hope she wasn't sexually assaulted," she said in a text message to the grandmother on April 6, 2009.

She still equivocated once she was arrested and confronted with overwhelming evidence that she committed the murders, including video surveillance, a witness spotting her in the remote area where the body was found and numerous inconsistencies in her interviews with investigators.

Game gone wrong?
Her new story was that Sandra perished during a game of hide-and-go-seek gone wrong.

According to court documents, she finally told investigators that she urged Sandra to climb into the suitcase during the game with her daughter. Huckaby said she zipped Sandra into the suitcase and then forgot about her until it was too late, finding a lifeless body when she finally returned.

She said she "freaked out" and dumped her body in the irrigation pond.

Huckaby still maintains she did not sexually molest Sandra. The doctor who performed the autopsy testified otherwise in the transcripts released Friday. But a judge Friday barred release of the actual autopsy report at the family's request.

The Associated Press, Bay Area News Group and The Record of Stockton had been seeking the release of the grand jury transcripts and other documents in the case.

Sandra's uncle, Joe Chavez, later blasted the news organizations because such records could include the autopsy report, saying that would violate the family's privacy.

"They should be ashamed of themselves!" Chavez said. "This is irresponsible journalism run amok."

The news organizations said it is in the public interest to release the information so the plea deal and the court's determination about sentencing can be evaluated.

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

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