STOCKTON — 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 Detective 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 pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murdering her daughter's playmate but has never revealed a motive.
What emerges from the documents is a portrait of a depressed woman with a troubled upbringing and a penchant for cutting herself with razors.
According to the transcripts, Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy, testified that Sandra's killer showed a "calm, calculating mind."
Omalu said during the July 2009 hearings that the way the body of 8-year-old victim was placed in the suitcase after the killing showed the work likely was premeditated. He testified that Sandra suffered mightily before she died of suffocation and was undoubtedly sexually assaulted.
"This was not something done in the heat of the moment," Omalu said. "This was a very calm, calculating mind at work."
That calculating mind was 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.
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.
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 Thomas 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.