Steven Downs, accused in a 1993 rape and murder of Sophie Sergie, goes on trial in Fairbanks on Monday, Jan. 10. Downs was arrested in Maine in 2019, where he had been employed as a license practical nurse.
Downs is now 47 years old. On April 26, 1993, he was a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and lived in the dorm where Sergie’s battered body was found. She was shot in the head with a .22-caliber bullet, stabbed in the face, bludgeoned, gagged, and had been also shocked with a stun gun, according to Alaska State Troopers investigators.
Sergei, a 20-year-old from Pitkas Point, had been visiting a friend at the dorm prior to her brutal murder. She left to smoke a cigarette and was missing until the next day, when a custodian found her body in a women’s bathroom on the building’s second floor. Downs lived on the third floor.
The suspected perpetrator’s DNA was found at the scene at the time, Troopers said when Downs was arrested in 2019. But until technology improved, no link had been made to any person, although the hunt for the killer went on for decades.
In 2018, the investigators began working with a lab in Virginia that had more sophisticated systems for linking DNA and genetic histories of families.
The Downs trial is expected to start Monday after being delayed due to one of the defense attorneys testing positive for Covid. The first day will be dedicated to jury selection, with oral arguments due later in the week, if the current schedule holds. Justice in this case has been delayed due to the Covid pandemic.
In December, Fairbanks Judge Thomas Temple announced a twist: Downs’ attorneys will be allowed to introduce evidence during the trial that would implicate three alternative suspects and cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. Downs’ attorneys have presented 13 other names of people who could have committed the crime, but Temple disallowed those.