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Sandra Coke, 50, of Oakland, a criminal investigator for the Office of the Federal Public Defenders, was reported missing since Aug. 4, 2013. (Courtesy of the Coke Family)
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OAKLAND -- Federal criminal investigator Sandra Coke was strangled before her decomposed body was found in a dry creek bed five days after she went missing in early August, a spokesman for the Alameda County Coroner's office said Tuesday.

The official cause of death was asphyxia and compression of the neck, the spokesman said Tuesday night. Coroner's officials did not say how long they believe she had been dead before her body was discovered.

The cause of death of Oakland resident Coke, 50, was released Tuesday after her former boyfriend, Randy Alana, was charged Friday with her murder. Coke worked as an inspector with the Sacramento branch of the federal public defender's office when she went missing after leaving her North Oakland home alone on the night of Aug. 4. Her body was found by a search-and-rescue team on Aug. 9 in Vacaville.

Alana, 56, appeared in court Tuesday afternoon and entered a not-guilty plea. He is slated to return to court Monday for a pretrial hearing, according to his court-appointed attorney, David Bryden of Oakland. Bryden said he was not familiar with all the evidence in the case and declined to comment, other than to say he met with Alana, who was in "good spirits" and "expressed quite a great deal of remorse over the loss of Ms. Coke." He later said he Alana was "sad."

In two jailhouse interviews with this newspaper, Alana, a career criminal with 17 prior felony convictions, has proclaimed his innocence, though he has never presented a clear alibi or accounted for information presented in the murder charging documents. The pair rekindled a 20-year-old romance in January after he was paroled from a 15-year bank robbery sentence in June 2012, Alana claims.

The Alameda County District Attorney's office last Friday released a detailed timeline of Alana's alleged movements on the night of Aug. 4 and the morning of Aug. 5, gleaned from his GPS ankle monitor, cell phone records, and video surveillance tape. The timeline asserts that Alana spent about 40 minutes at a West Oakland hotel, where he removed his ankle monitor -- and where he may have killed Coke, prosecutors say.

Alana has been held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin since Aug. 6 on a parole violation but was moved to North County Jail in Oakland last weekend. Alana said last Saturday that he had been in an altercation at Santa Rita but Bryden said the reason for the move was to likely have him closer to the courthouse.

Reach Kristin J. Bender at kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/kjbender.