TRACY, CA - The mother of murder victim Sandra Cantu submitted an impassioned letter to the court pleading to keep grand jury testimony and other details of her daughter's death sealed.
In part, Maria Chavez stated,
"I cannot imagine the trauma and horror that my children will experience if any crime scene photographs of Sandra are released ... or details of the forensic examinations of her become public. They have already been exposed to a level of pain that is hard to imagine.
"The thoughts that run through my head about my daughter's last moments are not something any parent should have to experience. I am tortured about it. I struggle not to let the anger and rage overwhelem me. As a mother, it falls on me to protect my family and not let them be hurt anymore. We have all been damaged enough and I don't know how we will ever heal."
The 8-year-old Tracy girl disappeared in March 2009. Her body was found in a suitcase in a pond 10 days later.
Neighbor Melissa Huckaby pleaded guilty earlier this month to kidnapping and murdering Cantu in a plea deal with the San Joaquin County district attorney in order to avoid the death penalty. Several media organizations filed to have the gag order on the case lifted and police and autopsy records unsealed.
Monday, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus denied the media's motion but said she would reconsider lifting the gag order after Huckaby is sentenced on June 14, followed by a hearing on the sealed documents issue later that same day.
NOTE FROM NEWS10: We have had some discussions both internally and on our website about whether the court should release documents related to the murder of Sandra Cantu.
News10 is not one of the media organizations pushing for release of those documents. While we are huge proponents of the public's right to know and the 1st Amendment, we should feel just as strongly about "...treating our customers with respect and dignity, showing particular compassion to the victims of crime or tragedy." (RTDNA Code of Ethics).
If the court does release the documents, News10 will keep the family's considerations in mind before releasing anything. You can be assured we will not release any photos or details surrounding the sexual assault or murder itself, regardless of what the other media organizations in town do. That's our way of setting the news agenda.