Melissa Huckaby Pleads Guilty to "Suitcase" Kidnap and Murder of 8-Year-Old Sandra Cantu

Melissa Huckaby, 28, cries in a Stockton, Calif., courtroom during her arraignment, Tuesday, April 14, 2009.
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
Melissa Huckaby
Melissa Huckaby April 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) Melissa Huckaby, the California Sunday school teacher accused of kidnapping, raping and killing Sandra Cantu, an 8-year-old playmate of her daughter, then stuffing the body in a suitcase, pleaded guilty Monday to murder in the first degree.

PHOTOS: Slain Girl Mourned

Huckaby pleaded guilty in exchange for the prosecution dropping the two counts of rape and lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under 14, according to Assistant Court Executive Officer Sharon Morris.

Huckaby could have been eligible for the death penalty but now she faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She's to be sentenced June 14.

PHOTOS: Slain Girl Mourned

Authorities say Huckaby killed Sandra Cantu, a playmate of her young daughter, in March 2009. A search for the girl ended after 10 days when her body was found stuffed in a black suitcase pulled from an irrigation pond a few miles from the Tracy mobile home park where both Cantu and Huckaby lived.

Huckaby also had been charged with previously drugging a 7-year-old girl and a 37-year-old man, whom police believe she had been dating. Those charges also were dropped in the plea deal.

Angie Chavez, Sandra's aunt and the spokeswoman for the Cantu family, declined comment Monday, citing the judge's gag order.

PHOTOS: Slain Girl Mourned