Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Boston man faces trial in 1988 death

Michael Coker is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Janet Phinney, 20, in March 1988. Prosecutors say Coker strangled Phinney, who was trying to break up with him.

Phinney’s remains were discovered by a neighbor in a wooded area behind her home three days after she went missing.

Coker had long been a suspect, but wasn’t charged until 2011 after renewed forensic testing was done with the benefit of DNA technology unavailable at the time of Phinney’s death.

During opening statements Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Mark Hallal said Coker, now 50, was obsessed with Phinney after she ended their volatile relationship.

Investigators said that when Coker was first questioned after Phinney’s death, he said he hadn’t seen her in more than a week.

But in 2004, Boston police matched semen recovered from Phinney’s body to Coker’s DNA, taken from him during an earlier conviction. In 2010, forensic scientists determined the sperm had been left within 24 hours of Phinney’s death.

Coker’s lawyer, Norman Zalkind, told the jury that a defense expert would challenge the prosecution’s claim that Phinney and Coker had sex shortly before Phinney was killed.

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