Suspect in cold case ’93 murder of Sophie Sergie set to stand trial on Monday

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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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I have lived in 2 different college dorms. Bathrooms are not sound proof. How did a pistol get fired in the dorm bathroom and no one heard it? No one came to the bathroom or called anyone about the sound.
    When Ms. Sergie didn’t return to her friend’s room why didn’t the friend go check on her? This is an odd case.

    • I’ve always wondered about that too. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she was actually killed elsewhere and her body was dumped there. It might seem like a leap to think the killer could drag a body into Bartlett Hall, but all the dorms at UAF were very unsecured at the time and someone carrying an overly large duffel or trunk wouldn’t have been immediately suspicious. Heck, if it was done at night, it could quite conceivably have been done without anyone seeing the killer period.

      I know it was because of Sophie’s case that sign-ins for guests became mandatory. They changed the way lights in the bathroom worked and had someone watching who came in and out of the dorm after 7 PM.

    • I might could answer that as I lived in those dorms the night this murder took place.

      The Upper Campus dorm bathrooms (showers and toilets) consisted of one large space where showers and toilets were separated like cubicles, but they all lived in the one room.

      On each floor there was also A SINGLE bathtub. It was separate from every other part of the restrooms. It had its own door with a lock, and the room was just big enough for the tub and the toilet. It was SUPER dark, even with the light on, and it was almost always empty because no one wants to share a bathtub with 80 other girls, right? You never knew who used it last, and everyone was creeped out by the possibilities when considering what kind of bug you might catch just for a lukewarm soak.

      I think they were built to shut out the world and provide a tiny speck of privacy because there was literally none to be found otherwise.

      Inside the bath bathroom, the water running and echo-like acoustics made it very hard to hear anything outside the room, and i can’t remember ever being able to hear anyone in there.

      It was also Fairbanks. Meaning that if it was nighttime, most of us were hammered. Not a lot of other options for entertainment in FREAKING FAIRBANKS. lol.

      You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone paying an iota of attention to anything going on in the bath bathroom. Like i said, it was almost always just vacant bc it was creepy.

      This feeling did not subside following Sophie’s murder. NO ONE took any baths after that, for who knows how long..

  2. I hear that a retired Trooper who now lives in Soldotna, and worked on the early investigation of this case, made some public comments that it was another individual, and not Downs, who is the real killer. Will the defense attorney’s put this Trooper on the stand?

  3. Will be interesting to see what strategies the defense tries to use to counter the DNA evidence.

  4. This sounds like a crime of passion. So much violence for someone who didn’t know her. There is an ex that was/is considered a suspect and confessed to others at one point.
    Where was the DNA found? What type? I am not seeing any mention of it anywhere.

  5. Later news reports said that a stun gun was used on her. Were stun guns even available on the market in 1993?

  6. This trial is delayed again. Covid. Courtroom will be closed to the public, however it will be live-streamed, meaning anyone can watch. New trial start date…….this Thursday. Cold case murder trials like this are fascinating to watch.

  7. Down’s former roommate who Downs is trying to pin it on is now a criminal trial lawyer in Oregon. Imagine that……hmmm.

  8. Interesting start on Day 1 of the trial. The defense hinted in their opening statements that Mr. Downs may be relying on “consensual sex” to beat rape charge which is reliant on Down’s DNA found at the crime scene.

  9. Interesting start on Day 1 of the trial. The defense hinted in their opening statements that Mr. Downs may be relying on “consensual sex” to beat rape charge which is reliant on Down’s DNA found at the crime scene.

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