Stockton, CA—Melissa Huckaby leaves the San Joaquin County Courthouse today with her life. She will spend that life in prison, but takes with her only the conviction for murdering 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. She's not, according to the record at least, a rapist.
"I should not have taken Sandra. And I want you to know that she did not suffer and I did not sexually molest your daughter," Huckaby read from a prepared statement in court.
"I found that statement strange, and I don't think a jury would have accepted it," said Thomas Testa, who prosecuted her case.
So why didn't prosecutors seek the death penalty. Why did they accept a plea that leaves out rape?
"The family and I are grateful we didn't have to go through a trial," said Angie Chavez, Sandra Cantu's aunt.
And it was in no small part because the family was so involved, so determined through a gag-order to keep the details of Sandra's death concealed. Certainly what we already know is hard enough to take: a bloody rolling pin a forced rubbing alcohol stupor a child's body zipped into a suitcase and dumped in a pond
"We are satisfied with the outcome of this case. We believe justice has been served," said Chief Janet Thessen, of the Tracy Police.
But ultimate justice may just have been too costly. The State of California would have had to spend an estimated million more dollars to try for the death penalty, with no guarantee a jury would have imposed the ultimate sentence.
"And frankly, right now California's death penalty is a complete joke. We don't even have a lethal injection protocol. There's a great likelihood, if a jury had returned a death verdict, Melissa Huckaby would have died of old age in jail. And that's exactly where we are today," said James Willett, San Joaquin County District Attorney.
Exactly where we are today: with Melissa Huckaby found guilty- yes. But with justice for Sandra Cantu? The depends on how you define justice.