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Body found near Vacaville ID'd as 'big-hearted' death penalty investigator

Body found Vacaville: Federal officers have identified the body found near Vacaville, Calif., as the remains of Sandra Cook, an investigator who worked to ensure death sentences were fair.

By Terry CollinsAssociated Press / August 13, 2013

Members of search and rescue teams from multiple counties gather in Lagoon Valley Park in Vacaville, Calif., during the search for Sandra Coke on Friday, Aug. 9.

Joel Rosenbaum / The Reporter / AP

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OAKLAND, Calif.

A woman's body found last week near Vacaville, in northern California, is that of a missing federal investigator, authorities said Tuesday.

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The Alameda County Coroner's office has identified the body as Sandra Coke of Oakland, who had been missing since Aug. 4, Oakland police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson said during a brief news conference with reporters. Watson would not discuss Coke's cause of death.

Coke worked as a capital case investigator for the federal public defender's office in Sacramento since 2009. She was assigned to investigate capital cases that were appealed to federal court to ensure death sentences were fair.

In a statement Tuesday, Coke's family described her as a "shining light" and "big-hearted person" whose generous hugs will be missed.

"She passionately devoted her professional life to helping the poor and those who endured difficult childhoods," the statement said. "All of us will miss Sandra's beautiful, giving spirit."

Coke's federal court colleagues also praised her. Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a statement Tuesday that Coke was an admired and respected professional working in a highly challenging area of the law who performed her duties with fairness and integrity.

"She will be greatly missed," the judge said. "Our hearts go out to her family."

Coke's former boyfriend Randy Alana of Oakland remains a person of interest in her disappearance, Watson said Tuesday. Alana and Coke were seen together on the day she disappeared, police said.

Alana, a registered sex offender, was arrested Aug. 6 on an unspecified parole violation.

A family friend, Laura Burstein, said Coke dated Alana more than 20 years ago. Another friend, Dan Abrahamson, said Alana recently reappeared in the area and reached out to Coke for help.

Alana was being held in the Santa Rita Jail without bail. He is considered a high-risk sex offender, with state records showing he has convictions for rape and kidnapping. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney.

Search and rescue crews found Coke's body Friday afternoon in a woodsy area near Lagoon Valley Park in unincorporated Vacaville. They then called off the search that began overnight Thursday in nearby Vallejo.

Coke disappeared after leaving her Oakland home shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 4 after reportedly telling her 15-year-old daughter she was meeting with someone who had found her missing dog.

Coke said she was also going to the drugstore and would be back in 30 minutes. The daughter called police when Coke did not come home that night.

Police found Coke's 2007 Mini Cooper convertible Aug. 5, just a few blocks from her home. Her cellphones were discovered near Interstate 80 in Richmond and near the Oakland-Emeryville border, her sister Tanya Coke-Kendall said.

The family said a fund has been created in Coke's name to provide for her daughter's care and education.

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