BOSTON, June 28, 2011 – Almost a quarter-century after 20-year-old Janet Phinney was found strangled in a wooded area behind her West Roxbury home in an area known as the Grove, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced the indictment and arrest of the victim’s ex-boyfriend for her homicide.
The Suffolk County Grand Jury today returned an indictment charging MICHAEL COKER (D.O.B. 7/3/62), a former Hyde Park resident, with first-degree murder for Phinney’s 1988 death. The victim was last seen by family members at the Cedar Road home where she lived with her parents and siblings on Mar. 18, 1988; Phinney’s body was discovered by a neighbor a few days later on March 21.
Boston Police officers arrested Coker this afternoon, and he is expected to be arraigned tomorrow morning in the Magistrate’s Session of the Suffolk Superior Court.
Police Commissioner Davis stated, “Homicide detectives, Suffolk County prosecutors and the Phinney family have been seeking justice for Janet for more than 20 years. The dogged efforts of the Cold Case Squad, the painstaking re-examination of the evidence by the BPD Crime Lab and the relentless dedication of prosecutors made this indictment possible. My hope is that this significant development provides Janet’s family with some sense of peace.”
“Today, after more than 20 years of uncertainty, Janet Phinney’s family members received the news that their loved one’s murderer has been indicted and arrested,” Conley said. “These developments are a direct result of modern advancements in the field of forensic analysis. In recent years, this has allowed Boston Police and Suffolk prosecutors to identify more and more offenders, ultimately holding them accountable in a court of law. Whether it’s days, weeks, months or years, the message here is that we will never quit in our pursuit of justice.”
Phinney, who had been working as a hairstylist and a waitress and living with her parents at the time, was discovered strangled to death by a neighbor after the victim’s parents filed a missing persons report with the Boston Police Department. Investigators say Coker was a person of interest at the time, but the state of the evidence was insufficient to charge him until recently.
In 2010, members of the Boston Police Department’s Cold Case Squad began a re-examination of Coker’s death bolstered by forensic technology that was unavailable at the time of the offense. Biological evidence recovered from the crime scene was uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a database of DNA samples from unsolved crimes and known offenders. That uploaded biological evidence was a “hit” – a match to a known suspect, later identified as Coker, who had been ordered to provide a DNA sample to the database after an unrelated conviction.
Conley earlier this month wrote a letter to the Senate and House Chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary urging them to adopt legislation that would expand the CODIS database to include post-conviction DNA samples, and further, to adopt a version of Katie’s Law, which requires arrestee DNA sampling. To date, 24 states and the Federal government have adopted versions of the law, while Massachusetts does not permit DNA sampling even for those arrested and charged with murder, burglary, serious sex crimes or any other felony.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.