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Parolee to stand trial in slaying of Oakland defense investigator

November 13, 2013|By Lee Romney
  • An undated family photo shows Sandra Coke, who disappeared from her Oakland home in August and was found strangled in a Vacaville dry creek bed five days later.
An undated family photo shows Sandra Coke, who disappeared from her Oakland…

OAKLAND — A parolee with a lengthy criminal record has been ordered to stand trial for murder in the death of Sandra Coke, an Oakland mother who worked as an investigator for the federal public defender's office and was entangled in a personal relationship with the defendant for years.

At the conclusion Tuesday of a six-day preliminary hearing, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon determined there was sufficient evidence presented to try 56-year-old Randy Alana on charges that he killed Coke, 50, stole her car and  bank cards.

Coke disappeared from her North Oakland home on the evening of Aug. 4. She had left the house to pick up a prescription for her 15-year-old daughter and then called to say she was with Alana pursuing a lead on her missing and beloved Cocker Spaniel.

Coke's body was found in a ditch in a dry Vacaville creek bed on Aug. 9, authorities said. An autopsy concluded she had been strangled.

Family and friends initially said only that Coke and Alana had dated briefly two decades ago and recently reconnected. However, testimony at the preliminary hearing revealed that Alana is the father of Coke’s teenage daughter. Relatives of Alana said Coke had maintained ties to his family and sought to help him when he was released from prison last year.

Tensions emerged, however. Coke suspected that Alana had stolen her dog. He had been ordered to stay away from Coke as a condition of his parole, but after he persuaded her in May to give him $1,000 for information leading to the dog’s return, she turned him in to parole agents.

He was arrested on the day his mother died and briefly held, missing her funeral, a fact prosecutors contend angered Alana and provides a possible motive in her slaying.

A criminal complaint lists 17 prior convictions for Alana, a number of them violent. He was a registered sex offender and was required to wear a GPS monitor on his ankle.

Investigators linked him to Coke’s disappearance through cellphone evidence, his GPS monitoring device -- which he disabled on the night Coke disappeared -- and surveillance video that showed him driving Coke’s car and using her bank cards.

A probable cause declaration in support of the warrant for Alana’s arrest in connection with Coke’s homicide indicates his GPS device showed him lingering not far from her home on the night she disappeared. It then tracked him moving north on Market Street in Oakland -- as video simultaneously showed Coke’s Mini Cooper moving in the same direction.

Her work cellphone – from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Sacramento – was discovered discarded on the same street a slight distance farther north. Alana’s GPS device then stopped sending signals.

However, video captured Coke's car crossing the Carquinez Bridge at 10:16 p.m. in the direction of Vacaville, consistent with numerous signals from Coke’s personal cellphone that lead up to the area where her body was found.

Shortly after midnight on Aug. 5, video shows Alana driving Coke’s car into a 7-Eleven parking lot in San Pablo and using her debit card inside. Bank records reveal he withdrew $400. Seven hours later he was captured on video in her car at an Oakland gas station and attempting unsuccessfully to withdraw more money.

Coke's car was found that evening and Alana was arrested on a parole violation the following morning. He had Coke’s car keys and debit card and admitted to disabling his GPS monitor, but denied knowledge of her disappearance, the declaration says.

Alana’s attorney, David Bryden, argued in court that the evidence was indirect, based on “conjecture and speculation.” However, Reardon ruled that prosecutor Colleen McMahon had presented sufficient evidence to hold Alana over for trial.

Also at the preliminary hearing, a fellow inmate testified that Alana had sent him a boastful letter believing he might be in the clear because a few days had passed and he had not been charged in the murder.

"So far so good," Alana wrote to the inmate. "It's after the first 48" hours.

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Twitter @leeromney

lee.romney@latimes.com

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