Steven Harris Downs was arrested on February 15, 2019 for the April 26, 1993 rape and murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sergie lived in the northern community of Pitkas Point and had travelled to Fairbanks for a dentist appointment. She was staying with a friend at a dorm at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was last seen that evening at about midnight after she stepped outside to have a cigarette. Her body was found the next morning by janitors in a bathtub in the Bartlett Hall dormitory. She had been raped, stabbed in both eyes, stabbed in her face, gagged with a ligature, and shocked with a stun gun. She died by a gunshot to the back of her head.
A sexual assault kit taken at Sergie’s autopsy was reprocessed in May of 2000, and a DNA profile of the suspect was obtained. The FGG investigation was conducted by Parabon Nanolabs. An aunt of Downs had uploaded her information to GEDmatch, and this was used to identify Downs as the source of the DNA profile. CeCe Moore located a maternal Aunt of Downs on GEDmatch, who matched Downs at a level of 23%.
Downs was thus identified as the lead suspect. He was working as a nurse in Maine at the time of his arrest, although he had been attending UA Fairbanks and living in Bartlett Hall at the time of the murder.
Downs has pleaded not guilty and his case is pending in the District Court in Fairbanks. The defence has argued that the DNA evidence should be excluded because it could have been the result of crime scene contamination, but no ruling on the evidence has yet been made. The defence may be preparing the way for an admission that Downs had consensual sexual contact with the victim. His attorneys have stated that there is no evidence as to when the sexual contact may have occurred. Sophie arrived in Fairbanks by plane two days before she was murdered.
Sophie Sergie’s family is of Alaskan Inuit heritage, and her mother, Elena Sergie, speaks Yup’ik. Translation is being provided for her during the proceedings.
In March of 2021, defence motions began. The defence attorney, James Howaniec, has claimed that Downs did not give his permission for his DNA sample to be uploaded to GEDmatch to be used in the criminal investigation, and so should be excluded as an unreasonable search and seizure. The defence motions were denied.
On February 10, 2022, Downs was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sexual assault. On September 26, 2022, Downs was sentenced in Fairbanks Superior Court to 75 years in prison, including 67 years for her murder and 8 years for her sexual assault.
On October 24, 2022, Downs filed an appeal of his conviction and sentence with the Alaska Court of Appeals. He is seeking public funding for his appeal. His trial attorneys have withdrawn due to a lack of funds for their fees.
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