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Sandra Cantu murder case forces Marsy's Law showdown

7:55 PM, May 24, 2010   |    comments
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STOCKTON, CA - In what appears to be the first significant court test of Marsy's Law, a San Joaquin County judge will decide whether the rights of victims extend to their family members.

Marsy's Law, also known as the Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008, aims to protect victims from reliving their traumatic experience by declaring they are entitled to finality in their criminal cases.

Attorneys representing family members of Sandra Cantu, the 8-year-old girl kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered last year by Melissa Huckaby, are seeking to prevent graphic grand jury testimony and an autopsy report from ever being made public.  They are basing their motion on Marsy's Law, claiming that Cantu's family members are victims as well.

"All the people we represented here today, they are all victims of what happened to Sandra," said attorney Stewart Tayback, who represents one of Cantu's three siblings.  "Basically it's the right of publicity versus the right of privacy."

A lawyer for Cantu's mother said Maria Chavez knows everything she needs to know about what happened to her daughter and doesn't believe the media needs to share anything more.  "Obviously there are gruesome details.  It was a horrendous crime and there are obviously details that no person would want published," said Arch Bakerink.

Huckaby pleaded guilty May 10 to first-degree murder with special circumstances to avoid the death penalty.  She faces life in prison without the possibility of parole at her sentencing June 14.

The Associated Press and the Stockton Record were among the media organizations petitioning Judge Linda Lofthus to lift a gag order and unseal the court documents prior to Huckaby's sentencing.  Lofthus declined to do either during Monday's hour-long court hearing.

Lofthus suggested the gag order would be lifted as soon as Huckaby is sentenced, but scheduled an afternoon hearing on the same day of the sentencing to hear arguments on the Marsy's Law issue.

Duffy Carolan, the attorney representing the media, said it would be virtually unheard of for a judge to permanently seal court records in a murder case after the defendant has been sentenced.  Carolan disputed claims that Marsy's Law extends to victims' family members.

"Emotionally it's a very hard argument to counter.  But legally, Marsy's Law does not grant family members of victims of violent crime a right to keep from the public details of the crimes charged by the state," she said.

by George Warren,


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