BOSTON, April 3, 2013—Janet Phinney’s killer was finally held accountable for her slaying 25 years ago, with a Suffolk Superior Court jury finding the 20-year-old’s one-time boyfriend guilty of murder, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said today.
After about two days of deliberations, jurors found MICHAEL COKER (D.O.B. 7/3/62) of West Roxbury guilty of second-degree murder. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke imposed the mandatory sentence for that offense, life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
“From beyond the grave, Janet Phinney gave investigators the evidence we needed to solve her murder and gave jurors what they needed to convict him,” Conley said. “A quarter century after her life was taken in an act of domestic violence, her killer was held to account. I hope her family can take some solace in knowing that justice has been done at long last.”
Prior to sentencing, Locke heard statements from Phinney’s brother, Robert Phinney, on how her violent death affected them in the years that followed.
“Janet was the baby girl in the family of seven kids,” he said. “She was vivacious and her personality was extraordinary. Each of us hold our own special memory of Janet [but] there are 12 nieces and nephews who will never have the privilege of their own memories of their aunt …. She will never have the chance to have her own family and share in ours. She has missed 24 Christmases, 24 Easters, 24 Thanksgivings, and 591 family birthdays to this date. A piece of us all died that day and we will never be the same.”
Assistant District Attorney Mark Hallal, chief of the DA’s Senior Trial Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Lynn Feigenbaum proved that Coker, then 25, strangled Phinney to death in the Grove section of West Roxbury on March 18, 1988.
On March 20, Phinney’s family filed a missing persons report. On March 21, her remains were discovered in a wooded area behind Cedar Road. She was face-down and partially undressed. She had been strangled to death.
Coker was linked to the case through the use of DNA evidence, which was recovered from Phinney’s remains and decades later entered into the Combined DNA Index System, which links DNA profiles from unknown assailants at crime scenes with the DNA profiles of known offenders. Coker had provided a DNA sample to the database after a felony conviction.
Trial testimony revealed that witnesses had seen a man who resembled Coker pacing in the area, asking to use the phone at a local business, and arguing with Phinney shortly before she was last seen. Testimony also showed that Coker left a series of angry messages on the Phinneys’ answering machine at about the same time.
Katherine Moran was the DA’s assigned victim-witness advocate. Coker was represented by attorney Norman Zalkind.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.