Thanks to the official sentencing of Melissa Huckaby for the murder of Sandra Cantu and the details that have been released regarding the case, this past week has given me — as well as everyone else in the Tracy Press newsroom — a lot to think about. Specifically, about what the role of the media, especially a community paper, is when it comes to publishing distrubing information about criminal cases.
It's a balancing act, with the public's right to know and the media's watchdog role on government pulling hard against the right of victims to privacy and a general sense of common decency.
It's led to some spirited and emotional newsroom discussions. Because, contrary to what's often assumed, we don't treat this stuff lightly. We honestly belong to a paper that prides itself on being a part of the community it covers.
You can see the compromise we arrived at in Friday's Tracy Press. Basically, that publishing salacious or gory details for their own sake don't add anything to the public's understanding of what happened in this case and simply hurts greiving family members. However, when stomach-turning information helps contradict Huckaby's statements, and demonstrates that she's either lying or unaware of what she has done, that merits consideration. We believe our readers should be treated as adults.
(For an overall defense of media action in cases like this, The Record's court reporter has an interesting take. You might not agree, but it's worth a read.)
As for Huckaby, it's hard to show any sympathy for her tears in court on Monday. It's absolutely fitting that she will have to live with the guilt and shame of murdering and abusing an 8-year-old girl for the rest of her life. The pain she's wrought is immeasurable. I doubt Huckaby even truly comprehends what she's done. And nothing she can do will make it an ounce better.
However, I do have sympathy on this one level — she was not born like this. Huckaby is fully responsible for what she did, oh yes. But I wonder what happened in her life to turn her into someone capable of murder.
Huckaby took that leap to take a life and ruin a family. But I'm willing to bet she didn't get close to the edge all on her own.