Killer of Sandra Coke convicted of murder

Career criminal Randy Alana was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday for killing his girlfriend, federal public defender investigator Sandra Coke of Oakland, two years ago.

It took an eight-woman, four-man jury less than two hours to reach their verdict against Alana, 58, who they also convicted of second-degree robbery for stealing items from Coke, vehicle theft for stealing her car and two counts of grand theft for using her ATM card.

Although Alana has had a lengthy criminal career that began in 1979 when he was convicted of kidnapping, oral copulation with force and two counts of rape, today marks the first time he’s been convicted of murder.

Alana, who has a total of 17 prior convictions, was prosecuted on murder charges twice in the 1980s but in the first case he was acquitted and after jurors deadlocked in the second case he pled no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Coke, 50, who worked in Sacramento, disappeared from her home on Aileen Street in Oakland the night of Aug. 4, 2013, and her decomposed body was found in a remote area in Vacaville five days later.

She met Alana in 1993 when he was in custody and she interviewed him on behalf of a death row inmate for whom she was working. They have a daughter together who was born in 1998.

Prosecutor Colleen McMahon told jurors in her closing argument earlier this week that Alana had multiple motives to murder Coke but she thinks the biggest one is that she believes Coke had told him the night she disappeared that she would no longer be in a relationship with him or support him financially.

McMahon said she also believes that Alana, who has 17 felony convictions and had been paroled from state prison in 2012, was angry at Coke because she had helped put him behind bars again when she called his parole agent on May 9, 2013, to report that he had violated his parole by stealing her car, stealing her daughter’s expensive headphones and taking her beloved cocker spaniel, Ginny.

But Alana’s lawyer, Al Wax, said Alana should be found not guilty of all the charges against him, arguing that Alana had no motive to kill Coke because he loved her and alleging that the prosecution failed to prove its case.

Coke’s sister, Tanya Coke-Kendall, a former federal public defender who’s now a lecturer at John Jay College in New York City and is raising the daughter Coke had with Alana, sobbed after the verdict was announced, as did Wendy Springer, one of Coke’s best friends, and the best friend of Marilyn Piggott, the woman Alana was accused of murdering in North Oakland on Aug. 13, 1983.

Alana, who has glasses and was dressed in a blue sweater and a tie, rested his head on his folded hands, looked straight ahead and showed no emotion when the verdict was announced.

But his demeanor was markedly different than it was on Tuesday, when he laughed and whispered to Wax while McMahon presented her closing argument.

As bailiffs led him out of the courtroom today, Alana told them, “I’ll see you around.” Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman ordered tight security for the verdict announcement, noting Alana’s history of violence, which includes his manslaughter conviction for the death of fellow inmate Al Ingram, 40, at the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland on June 23, 1984.

Prosecutors said Ingram was stabbed 85 times with a homemade knife fashioned from sheet metal taken from a jail lighting fixture.

Prosecutors said Alana, co-defendant James Benson, who was convicted of first-degree murder and is still in state prison, and Ingram all belonged to the Black Guerilla Family prison gang and Alana suspected, incorrectly, that Ingram was a police informant.

Five deputies stood around Alana while the verdict was announced, another four deputies stood at the background and several burly investigators from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office sat in the front row.

Wax, who has represented Alana during all three of his murder trials, said, “Mr. Alana maintains his innocence and he will appeal and he expects to be vindicated sooner or later.” Wax said Alana “is disappointed with the verdict and hopes and expects that someday the real perpetrator or perpetrators will be apprehended.” Based on surveillance camera footage and information from a GPS monitoring device that Alana was wearing on his ankle as a condition of his parole, McMahon said in her closing argument that she believes Alana strangled Coke in the back seat of her 2007 white Mini Cooper in a secluded parking area at the Nights Inn motel at 874 W. MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland sometime between 8:42 p.m. and 9:22 p.m. on Aug. 4.

Wax said Coke was “obsessed” with finding her dog, Ginny, and he thinks she may have been killed by a stranger who she met while she was searching for her dog.

But McMahon said Coke died of asphyxia and compression of the neck consistent with strangulation, which she said is “a very personal way to kill.” The prosecutor asked jurors rhetorically, “Who else but Mr. Alana would want to kill her in such a personal way?” Alana’s sentencing date will be set on Thursday, when he returns to court for the formality of affirming his 17 prior convictions, which will increase his sentence.

According to Goodman, Alana will face a minimum of 48 years to life in state prison and a maximum of 96 years to life.