Melissa Huckaby Pleads Not Guilty in Sandra Cantu Murder

Melissa Huckaby Pleads Not Guilty in Sandra Cantu Murder
Melissa Huckaby
AP

06/12/2009 AT 05:45 PM EDT

After three continuances, Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby pleaded not guilty on Friday to murdering her daughter's 8-year-old playmate, Sandra Cantu, and stuffing her body in a suitcase.

During the brief hearing in a Stockton, Calif., courtroom – the fourth since her arrest two months ago on charges that make her eligible for California's death penalty – Huckaby was ordered back Sept. 24 for a preliminary hearing.

Huckaby, 28, occasionally smiled during the hearing, and said "yes" when asked by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus if it was okay that the court take breaks during the six-day hearing to handle any other matters requiring its attention.

Huckaby allegedly murdered Cantu, her 8-year-old neighbor, on March 27 at the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy, Calif., stuffed her body into a suitcase and dumped it into a lagoon. The murder shocked the farm community, where more than 3,000 people attended a public memorial for the little girl.

Before her arrest, Huckaby reportedly swallowed razor blades.

Huckaby is charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of Cantu, and with child endangerment and furnishing a harmful substance in the drugging of a 7-year-old girl and a man, both of whom survived, in the months before Sandra was murdered.

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