A Tracy woman pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that she raped and murdered 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, asserting her innocence three days after the prosecution urged the judge to move the case along.

Melissa Huckaby, 28, making her fourth appearance in a Stockton courtroom since her arrest in April, entered not guilty pleas to murder and special circumstances that make her eligible for execution if convicted.

She also pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and furnishing a harmful substance for allegedly drugging a 7-year-old girl and a man in the months before Sandra died.

Huckaby’s preliminary hearing will begin Sept. 24 and will last at least six days over the course of three weeks, said Judge Linda Lofthus of San Joaquin County Superior Court.

Asked by Lofthus if she waived her right to a continuous preliminary hearing – one that proceeds from start to finish without the court breaking for other cases – Huckaby said, “Yes.” She smiled several times during the brief hearing as attorneys chatted and made small talk.

Huckaby, who is the mother of one of Sandra’s playmates, was arrested April 10 and charged with murder and three special circumstances. Those allege that the killing was committed during a kidnapping, involved a lewd or lascivious act on a child, and involved rape with a foreign object.

Prosecutors had urged Lofthus to enter a plea for Huckaby if the defendant did not do so herself Friday, saying the case was dragging. They have not decided whether to pursue the death penalty.

Huckaby is being held without bail at San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp.
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