STOCKTON — Melissa Huckaby, the single mom suspected of murdering 8-year-old Tracy girl Sandra Cantu, pleaded not guilty today to the charges.

The 28-year-old Tracy woman denied all enhancements of rape, kidnapping and lewd and lascivious acts on a child. It was her fourth court appearance since her April 10 arrest.

San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus set the preliminary hearing date for Sept. 24.

Huckaby’s plea came after prosecutors asked Lofthus to move the case along and pressure Huckaby’s lawyer to enter a plea rather than be granted more time to review evidence. Today, Huckaby said “yes” when Lofthus asked if she agreed to waive that right and to have the preliminary hearing held on Thursdays and Fridays for three consecutive weeks, beginning in late September.

Huckaby also faces charges that she furnished a harmful substance to a 36-year-old Hayward man named Daniel Plowman and to a 7-year-old girl.

Huckaby appeared calm during the 10-minute arraignment. She smiled weakly at her family as she shuffled toward her seat. She looked around at reporters and stared at the judge. Her hair was pulled back, and her wrists and ankles were shackled.

Sandra’s aunt, uncle, grandparents and mother attended the hearing, along with other friends and relatives. On Huckaby’s side, her grandmother and father were there, among other friends and family.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa said he plans to keep all the evidence, except for a fax machine that belongs to Huckaby’s grandparents. They can have it back, he said.

Other evidence he referred to belongs to Debbie and David Slayter, along with their relative, Jeff Barringer, and Frank Wohler. Wohler and the Slayters live in Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, the same neighborhood Huckaby and Sandra called home.

At the arraignment, Lofthus told the attorneys she had been compiling a list of all news stories related to the Huckaby case and would give them each a hard copy of the 500 Google Alerts she collected. She said she learned that like a jury, a judge isn’t allowed to read stories in the media about a pending case.

“I won’t be looking at them anymore,” she said.

September’s preliminary hearing will give the public a chance to hear more details about the case. Both prosecution and defense will lay out their arguments and as much evidence as necessary before trial to make their case.

Sandra used to play with Huckaby’s 5-year-old daughter. Sandra went missing on March 27. Farmworkers found her lifeless body stuffed into a suitcase 10 days later. Huckaby was arrested later that week, and police still insist she acted alone.

A sweeping gag order prevents anyone officially involved from talking to reporters about the case.

Huckaby remains at San Joaquin County Jail. If convicted, she could face the death penalty or life behind bars.

• Contact Tracy Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth at 830-4225 or

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