Breaking News: Court records unsealed in Sandra Cantu case
by Jaclyn Hirsch / Tracy Press
Jun 14, 2010 | 20314 views | 18 18 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sandra Cantu was 8 years old when she was killed more than a year ago in Tracy. Press file photo
Sandra Cantu was 8 years old when she was killed more than a year ago in Tracy. Press file photo
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STOCKTON — Judge Linda Lofthus decided this afternoon to unseal most of the grand jury transcript and most of the evidence that police used to charge Melissa Huckaby in the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Tracy girl Sandra Cantu.

The only portion of the grand jury transcripts that will remain sealed involves the identity of a minor — a 7-year-old girl who Huckaby allegedly drugged in January 2009.

Lofthus said she wants to protect the identity of the girl and her mother but unsealed the rest of the grand jury transcripts, which includes descriptions of how Huckaby kidnapped, drugged and murdered Sandra last March.

The judge also ruled that the autopsy photos remain sealed, but said the release of the autopsy results, which are not part of the grand jury documents, remains up to the county sheriff-coroner’s office.

The search warrants and affidavits specifically involving Huckaby will become public documents, along with most of the evidence from the grand jury transcripts. Most photos will be available, with the exception of the autopsy photos, which she said would remain sealed to protect the privacy and rights of Sandra’s family.

She said her ruling was a balance between the public’s right to know and the family’s right to privacy.

“None of these were easy decisions for me, but that is the job,” Lofthus said this afternoon in the Department 34 courtroom.

Sandra’s family has fought to keep the records sealed, and lawyers for the family asked to postpone making the records public so they can decide whether to appeal Loftus’ ruling.

Lofthus said the attorneys could have until 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 18, to file an appeal. If no appeal is made by then, documents will be made available for the public.

Before Loftus made her ruling, she heard arguments from the district attorney, lawyers representing the family and lawyers representing three media outlets, including The Record in Stockton.

Stewart Tabak, a lawyer from Stockton who represents Sandra’s sister, Simone, compared the media to a “spoiled child” that “just doesn’t like the word, ‘no.’”

“What is out there is already too much,” he said.

Both Tabak and Archie Bakerink, a lawyer from Tracy who represents Sandra’s mother, Maria, said that Marsy’s Law, a 2008 amendment to the state constitution, gives crime victims’ close relatives the right to privacy.

Lofthus said she addressed the concerns about photos falling into the wrong hands by sealing those taken during Sandra’s autopsy. She said details of the sealed photos are described in the grand jury transcripts, which will make the information public without making the actual images viewable.

She added that the decision to keep the photos private is best for Sandra’s siblings who are minors. Lofthus also said she wanted to keep the images from showing up on the Internet.

“Once published, it goes viral,” she said.

She said she has “confidence” that mainstream media outlets would use the information in a responsible manner, but expressed some concern about bloggers and those “on the fringe of mainstream media.”

• Contact reporter Jaclyn Hirsch at 830-4223 or jhirsch@tracypress.com.

Comments
(18)
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fortheunderdog
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June 16, 2010
beamer74,

This court information, still, did not need to be released in able to be discussed in a college setting. Will you, or any one else, be able to identify criminal intent from just looking at someone? I'm sure many must have passed Huckaby in the mall or somewhere else. Do you think with the information contained in this court case would have given anyone the insight to recognize her as dangerous? I don't think so. Once a crime has been committed behavioral distinctions will come to play in profiling the type of person could be responsible.

Good luck to you in your studies. I really mean that, it wasn't meant as being sarcastic.
doors17
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June 15, 2010
Both sides are making excellent points. Personality I wish the victims families were allowed to make the final decision.

Tragedies like this should be a reminder to all of us to never worry about what we don't have, but learn to appreciate what we do have, and that's each other.
beamer74
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June 15, 2010
fortheunderdog

It's more of a real world or a here and now case that would more than likely talked about in a psychology course that I'm sure i will take in the future. We have already talked about this case in all of my CJ courses, and the final word was we needed more information about the case to understand what goes on in someones head to do this kind of crime. As you well know I'm sure being in whatever Law Enforcement Agency you are in.
CYer6
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June 15, 2010
I have to say that 'baritvc' is right. Criminal matters aren't like civil lawsuits wherein the defendant just has to pay monetary damages if they lose. In criminal matters, The State or The People can take away not only your property, but your freedom and sometimes your life.

For this reason, it's important that the public has PROOF that the facts support the punishment. If the records of criminal proceedings weren't made available, all we'd have to go on would be the word of a reporter. By making criminal records open to the public, people can have faith that the punishment fit the crime and that the right person was in fact the one who committed the crime.
baritvc
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June 15, 2010
Unfortunately, the family does not have a right to privacy. This is a criminal offense with evidence gathered, analyzed and used to prepare charges against a defendant by public employees. It is the People versus Melissa Huckaby. The evidence is a matter of public record. In years past in other areas of this country, law enforcement could claim they had evidence against a defendent and that the evidence could not be revealed out of consideration for the family. Many times, the evidence was minimal and the only consideration was for the police to close a case not the guilt or innocence of the defendant. This is NOT a civil case. The family does not have a say one way or another. When defendant is a minor, rules are different. When victim is a minor, rules are not different. Sorry for the family, but the records will be unsealed.

Missa
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June 15, 2010
Nobody needs to know the details behind this heinous crime. Huckaby is behind bars and won't be harming others, that's all we the public need to know.

Trusting the media to be responsible is like trusting society to have common sense. Any one who has read the police blotter knows that common sense is not common.

The records should remain sealed, if not forever, for at least several years until society has forgotten about this tragedy. Sandra's family needs time to grieve, something that they haven't had a chance to do since this whole thing happened. I am so sorry for the family, and their loss. I didn't know Sandra, but I'm sure she was an extraordinary child.
LAM75
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June 15, 2010
This statement has nothing to do with the quarrel you are having.

I would not be surprised if Melissa Huckaby commits suicide. It has happened at DVI and other prisons. That is just a thought I had.
TankTownTroublemaker
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June 15, 2010
Two words: Legal precedent.

Judge Lofthus doubtlessly took into consideration more than the events associated with this particular case. What was decided here is essentially "Does the family's right to privacy supercede the legal precedent of the public's right to know". It's all about transparency- were the findings in the case sufficiently supported by evidence?

Yes, the details of this case are very disturbing, and I find it sickening that so many people are using them to play amateur psychologist. I wish the Tracy Press would edit some of the comments made in related columns, citing their own "respectful and constructive" criteria.

But the bottom line is that the decision was made with the bigger picture in mind.
fortheunderdog
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June 15, 2010
Introspect,

I have to disagree with you with some points and agree with some others.

Although the phrase "the public right to know" is law, information does not have to be released. Similiar to crimes committed by juveniles, you'll notice that their names are never mentioned. I don't think the Cantu family needs this information on what Huckaby did to Sandra released.

This case will be discussed for a long time, especially in college psychology classes but there the total outcome will be beneficial for psychologists/psychiatrists when treating patients with similiar disorders.

I personally don't feel the public needs to know the details. It's better left sealed.

What is the public going to do with it? Evaluate everyone they come in contact to? Bunco night gossip? Or talk while drinking your latte'?

This does not need to be public knowledge.
Introspect
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June 15, 2010
The details are sick. The point of giving the details in the comments was to show that Huckaby lied at her sentencing hearing; but also the public does have a right to know the true nature of this crime. Particularly in this case. A child murdered and raped by her playmate's mother?! I would guess this kind of crime happens almost never, and it needs to be understood. It gives parents a whole new avenue of concern: nobody can be trusted with your kids, not even another mother. This crime will be studied and written about for decades.

Also, the Tracy Press article printed Huckaby's remarks without referencing how they contradicted the newly released evidence.

In Cal courts you must actually admit guilt for the crimes you are facing when you accept a plea deal for reduced charges. In this case, because Huckaby's deal dropped the rape charges, she was only required to plead guilty to kidnapping and murder; acts she did admit to in her statement. The lie she told about not raping Sandra does not violate her plea deal as she was not required to say anything about that charge.

fortheunderdog
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June 15, 2010
The Sandra Cantu case will always be available as reference for other similiar cases. It does not have to be released to the public.

As far as "understanding criminology more" you can learn a lot more if you take the correct psychology classes. You don't have to have these records public to learn anything.

Tell me, why would you want to know how Sandra died? How she was sexually molested? This information is morbid to say the least, why would anyone in their right mind want to "know"?

So...if anyone is in school as a criminal justice major, pay attention to your studies and IF you're fortunate enough to be hired by a law enforcement agency, as I was, you will receive further training on matters like this and probably see more than you gambled for.

beamer74
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June 15, 2010
You people don't know what your talking about. The people have the right to know, and yes I have two daughter's myself around Sandra's age. The details to this case may help with another case in the future. Futher more as a student with a Criminal Justice major this will help me and anybody else in law enforcement with understanding criminalogy more, and why people do these things to other people. So please look at the bigger picture instead of what's right in front of you. The judge in this case isn't trying to hurt anyone just doing her job and it is all of our right to know. Look it up The Freedom of Information Act. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS PEOPLE!!!!
TankTownTroublemaker
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June 15, 2010
You people who are criticizing Judge Lofthus are being ignorant. Her job is to uphold the law, not arbitrarily decide how things should be based on her whims. If you're not happy with her decision (which is actually a ruling, based on law) then change the law.

I actually served on a case in her courtroom for three months. I had plenty of opportunity to learn something about her character and level-headedness. She's EXTREMELY concerned with the good of her community. She spends her own free time giving talks to students and civic groups. She is empathetic but clearly understands the line that must be drawn between her personal desires and the letter of the law.

To insult her the way she's being denigrated here is a disgrace.
whoareyoukidding
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June 14, 2010
I agree. There is no reason for anyone to know the details. This judge should be ashamed of herself. Bet she would feel different if Sandra was her daughter.
HIPPOLYTOS
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June 14, 2010
If at lesat some of the information can come out with just saying Sandra died, it might stop it from happening again, I don't think that is sick.
mommyofthree
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June 14, 2010
No, it should only be about the privacy of the family! WTH??!!! That judge should be fired on the spot. The public has NO right to know, they already know what they need to know. That Sandra is gone. How is this going to fix anything or bring her back? They're just going to feed into those sickos minds who are just as sick and twisted like Huck. This is sick. That judge is completely stupid.
HIPPOLYTOS
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June 14, 2010
I agree no one needs really needs the details of Sandra's death, but I do want the profile of Huckaby to come out. So some type of controled release would be better, sort of filtered if it could be done that way, I don't know.
fortheunderdog
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June 14, 2010
There is absolutely no reason for anyone not involved in this case to have knowledge of intimate details of how Sandra Cantu died or was molested. The "public's right to know" is a crock. The victim's family should have final say if records should be unsealed. Those "public Mrs Kravitz'" can use their imagination as to what happened and believe me just doing that should shock the crap out of them. I hope Sandra's family files an appeal to stop this.


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