“It’s been real heartbreaking,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, where Coke worked in the mid-1990s. “She was just a wonderful person and skilled and committed advocate. It’s a terrible, terrible loss.”
Coke was last seen with Randy Alana (pictured below, right), 56, a convicted violent sex offender with a long criminal history whom she dated 20 years ago. According to police, he had reached out to her for help. He has been named a person of interest in the case. The Chronicle writes:
A source close to the investigation said a surveillance camera had filmed Coke’s Mini Cooper crossing the Carquinez Bridge after she disappeared. Alana was filmed by another camera filling up Coke’s car at a gas station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in North Oakland, the source said. The car was found abandoned Monday in West Oakland. Coke’s work phone was found on a street near the Oakland-Emeryville border Sunday, and her personal cell phone was found near an Interstate 80 overpass in Richmond.
That phone’s signal had been tracked through the North and East Bay, including in Vacaville, said Coke’s sister Tanya Coke-Kendall. Coke was seen with Alana after she left her North Oakland home at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 4, telling her 15-year-old daughter she was going to a drugstore and would be back in half an hour, police said. Alana has convictions for voluntary manslaughter, rape, and several other sex-assault crimes. He has been in violation of sex-offender registration requirements since June, records show.
Police declined to release any further information about any connection between Coke’s death and Alana.
In the mid-1990s, Coke worked in the Deep South helping the vulnerable juvenile inmate population in Alabama that was, at the time, eligible for the death penalty, according to the Mercury News. The 16 juvenile inmates on death row was the largest in the nation. Coke was able to interview family and friends to bring out the traumatic childhood experiences that influenced these juveniles’ behavior. It was evidence that was not often presented at trial. Coke had a “gentle way” of dealing with inmates and their families.
“She had a wonderful way of endearing people to her and persuading people to talk to her about difficult things,” Stevenson said.
Now Coke’s family is making plans to take care of her 15-year-old daughter who is left without her mother.
“All of us will miss Sandra’s beautiful, giving spirit,” the Coke family statement read. “Our family and Sandra’s daughter will need time and privacy to mourn our loss. We thank you for understanding our need for privacy at this time.”
A fund has been set up to help care for Coke’s daughter and to provide for her education. Visit The Sandra Coke Fund website for details on how to donate.