Calif. Girl's Accused Killer Tried Suicide

The Sunday school teacher accused of raping and murdering an eight-year-old California girl attempted suicide days before her arrest in the case, CBS News has learned.

Melissa Huckaby was hospitalized after swallowing three X-Acto knife blades, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone. She remains under suicide watch after being formally charged Tuesday with kidnapping, raping and murdering her daughter's playmate, Sandra Cantu.

Huckaby, 28, appeared in a San Joaquin County courtroom for her arraignment in a red jumpsuit and shackles. She trembled and cried as a judge read the charges: murder with the special circumstances of rape with a foreign object, lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under 14, and murder in the course of a kidnapping.

The special circumstances mean Huckaby, if convicted, could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, though District Attorney James Willett said he hasn't decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Huckaby has been ordered to return to court on April 24, when she's expected to enter a plea.

By that time, reports Blackstone, Huckaby will have undergone a medical evaluation - suggesting a possible strategy for her defense: claiming insanity. But some experts think her actions leading up to her arrest would complicate that defense.

"This is a suspect who made numerous efforts to cover up her previous remarks and those are the kind of things that make an insanity plea harder," Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and chairman of The Forensic Panel, told CBS News. "She had communication with media and other people that was rational to them. That may get in the way of some of what she's doing."

Huckaby was a volunteer Sunday school teacher at the Clover Road Baptist Church in Tracy, Calif., where her grandfather is pastor.

Police returned Tuesday to search the church, as well as Huckaby's home, a few doors down from Sandra's in a trailer park in Tracy, a city of about 78,000 people some 60 miles east of San Francisco.

Police had searched the church, interviewed Huckaby's grandfather, Pastor Clifford Lawless, and taken items from the family's home in the days after Sandra's body was found. Huckaby lived with her grandparents.

At a Tuesday evening news conference, Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman would not say why police returned to the church and home or what, if anything, they had taken. But he said police are continuing to investigate Huckaby, who they believe acted alone.

Sandra disappeared March 27, and was last seen on a surveillance camera skipping outside the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park.

A 10-day search by law enforcement and the community ended on April 6, when farm workers draining an irrigation pond a few miles away from the mobile home complex found the suitcase containing Sandra's body.

Police have said Sandra was found wearing the same clothes she had on when she was last seen: a pink "Hello Kitty" T-shirt and black leggings. They have not said how, why or where she was killed, and the coroner's office has said autopsy results are pending.

The complaint said the murder happened "on or about" March 27, but gave no other details.

Huckaby was arrested Friday after what police said were inconsistencies in her story during hours of questioning.

She had told a Tracy Press reporter that the suitcase in which Sandra's body was found was hers, but that it had been stolen the day Sandra went missing.

Huckaby's family has described her as a loving mother who had a strong religious background and wouldn't hurt anyone.

Relatives visited Huckaby at San Joaquin County Jail on Monday night, where she had been under observation. That was the first time they'd seen her since her arrest.

Huckaby's father, Brian Lawless, said the family cried and prayed together during the visit.

"She's not getting much sleep but in spite of all that that she looks good," he said afterwards. "We're in shock ... The young lady I see on film, that's not my daughter."

A public memorial service was scheduled for Sandra in Tracy on Thursday.
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