By the time former Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby appeared in court Friday for a third time, prosecutors had amended the charges against her to include a few more. Already accused of kidnapping, raping, and killing her 8-year-old neighbor, Sandra Cantu, Huckaby was charged with poisoning two other persons not directly related to the Sandra Cantu case.
According to the complaint, Melissa Huckaby “willfully and unlawfully” mixed a substance in the drink of a child under her care with an “intent to do harm.” CNN reported that the child was not identified except as “Jane M. Doe.” Daniel Plowman, 36, was named as a victim as well but no other details were released.
Among the new charges against Huckaby was a count of child abuse endangerment involving the unidentified child.
As in her previous two hearings, Melissa Huckaby did not enter a plea. Instead, her lawyers argued that they needed more time to consider their defense in light of the new charges. According to Recordnet.com, San Joaquin County Deputy Public Defender Sam Behar told Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus that his office had received over 1,000 pages of evidence recently and time was needed to effectively evaluate it.
When asked if she agreed to the delay, Melissa Huckaby simply nodded. Lofthus told her she had to answer aloud. “Yes,” said Huckaby, the only sound she would make during the hearing.
San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa also told Judge Lofhus that he was waiting for a preliminary hearing for his client. Preliminary hearings have the defense advantage of allowing for rebuttal and cross-examination of witnesses in an open court. If Testa chose to go before a grand jury, the prosecution would get to present their evidence in a closed proceeding without defense attorneys present. Both methods are used to decide if a trial merits going before a jury.
Judge Lofthus also announced that she was looking into “other facilities” in which to hold further hearings in the case. The high-profile missing person case and subsequent arrest of Melissa Huckaby for allegedly causing the death of Sandra Cantu has drawn tremendous public and media attention. That attention also prompted Lofthus in a prior hearing to keep sealed autopsy and toxicology reports because she believed they constitutied a “great danger of public outrage.”
In a case that has revealed that a Sunday school teacher and mother of a 5-year-old girl allegedly took another child, allegedly raped and caused the death of said child, and allegedly placed her small body in a piece of luggage and sank it to the bottom of a dairy pond, the great danger would more likely be in compounding the public outrage that already exists. After news that Melissa Huckaby had also been involved in an investigation concerning the suspected drugging of another child that had been in her care, concerns rose that she had a history of child predation and child abuse.
It would be safe to assume that the “public outrage” was already firmly in place before the judge ruled on whether or not to release the findings of the reports. The autopsy and toxicology reports more likely would ring anticlimactic in light of all that had previously become public knowledge.
Melissa Huckaby, if convicted, could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the kidnapping, rape, and killing of Sandra Cantu.