[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/31/art.crime.sandra.cantu.jpg caption="Melissa Huckaby has been accused in the rape and murder of Sandra Cantu, above."]
Lisa Bloom: Today is Melissa Huckaby’s arraignment, that’s where she would ordinarily plead guilty or not guilty. Her attorney may seek to delay that plea because they want a second autopsy to be done on the remains of Sandra Cantu and a further investigation.
How important is it to the defense to have the body exhumed?
Lisa Bloom: It’s very important to the defense to have the body exhumed because they want to do their own autopsy. They want to determine if there was a sexual assault on little Sandra and I suspect also toxicology results to see if there were any chemicals, any sedatives in her system.
What do you expect at the trial?
Lisa Bloom: At trial, I would expect it to be all about the science, they may claim that the prosecutions theory is incorrect. Either she was not sexually assaulted or they can’t link the sexual assault and the killing to Melissa Huckaby. The defense is going to be looking for any forensic evidence, any DNA, hair or fibers that might link this killing to some other perpetrator. They’re also going to want to disprove the sexual component of this crime.
What are the special circumstances in this case?
Lisa Bloom: The special circumstances in this case are there it’s not just a homicide, it’s a homicide accompanied by a rape and a kidnapping and also it’s a young child, just eight years old. This is a very shocking crime. In all my years of following horrifying crime stories, I have never heard a story of a woman allegedly acting alone, raping and killing a little girl, much less harming a child that’s not related to her. This is completely out of the ordinary.
The standard for legal insanity is very, very high, much higher than just ordinary mental illness. Her attorneys are going to have to show that she did not know the difference between right and wrong and she was not capable of conforming her conduct to the law. If she did it, she hid the body afterward, she lied about it afterward. Those are behaviors that would tend to show she knew that what she did was wrong and probably would bar a legal insanity defense.
Jurors really do not like the insanity defense, less than one percent of defendants who assert it at trial are actually acquitted by reason of insanity, so I would not expect that that’s going to prevail for Melissa Huckaby here.
Legal insanity in California is not knowing the difference between right and wrong and being unable to conform one’s conduct to the law, simple mental illness alone is not enough, millions of people in this country suffer from mental illness: depression, anxiety, stress. That’s not enough for the legal insanity defense; it’s a very, very high threshold to meet.
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