Since the March 27 death of Sandra Cantu and the subsequent arrest of 28-year-old Melissa Huckaby, a shroud of secrecy has surrounded the case.
Judge Linda Lofthus’ gag order prevents attorneys, investigators, and potential witnesses from talking about the case. Additionally, Lofthus sealed Sandra Cantu’s autopsy report.
Now it appears a secret grand jury is expected to convene and meet for two weeks beginning July 20. The grand jury will decide if Huckaby will stand trial in open court on charges of kidnap, rape, and murder.
Prosecutors have sent out subpoenas for witnesses to appear in San Joaquin County Superior Court. The witnesses will testify before the grand jury behind closed doors. The defense is not allowed access to the proceeding to cross-examine witnesses.
David Wellenbrock, a retired San Joaquin County prosecutor says that Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa may have chosen to follow the grand jury route because typically, the grand jury moves much faster than a preliminary hearing in open court. Wellenbeck said, “San Joaquin County Superior Court is notorious for dragging cases out for a long time.”
The grand jury proceeding would take the place of Huckaby's preliminary hearing set for Sept. 24 and will insure all evidence and testimony is kept secret until a jury trial.
The veil of secrecy may also help attorneys find jurors who haven't heard a lot of facts and used them to form an opinion before the trial, thus avoiding a possible change of venue.