Taking the Stand: Cross examinations in the Steven Downs Jury Trial

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 9:57 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Steven Downs listened quietly in a Fairbanks courtroom Tuesday as State of Alaska prosecutors and Down’s defense attorneys cross-examined several witnesses. Witnesses included a family member and friends of Sergie who were with her the night before her body was found murdered and raped in a University of Alaska dormitory bathtub early Monday, April 26, 1993.

The jury trial was temporarily postponed last week due to two jurors being exposed to COVID-19. Now that the trial has resumed, the state and the defense have continued on with witness testimony.

State of Alaska Assistant Attorney General Christopher Darnell and Downs Defense Attorney James Howaniec took turns cross-examining witnesses.

Prosecutors and the defense asked questions to set up a general timeline of events. They wanted to know their relationship with Sergie, and a recollection of their whereabouts the night leading up to her murder. They used past transcripts from interviews witnesses had with investigators over the years.

Joann Sundown, a friend former roommate of Sergie, was asked about a photo showing her on a bed looking at magazines. She went on to say that Sunday, that her brother and she dropped Sergie off at a hair salon, although she couldn’t remember the name of the salon.

Jolene Nanouk took the stand shortly after and was presented with several pictures that were taken the evening of Sunday night. Nanouk remembered taking pictures as Sophie was “running in a circle pretending to fly.” Nanouk said that night she was happy and enjoying her life.

“To me, it is like she is happy to be there and happy to be spending time there and living in the moment,” said Nanouk.

She stated at that time she was in her third year of college and living in the Nana Dorms. She asked Sophie if she wanted to stay with her that night but Sergie had told Nanouk she had a dentist appointment in the morning and she was going to be flying back home.

After dropping her off at the Bartlett Dormitories, that was the last she saw of her.

Witness Eric Newlin recalled the night he and three others including Sergie, went to the movie theatre to watch “Indian Summer,” before taking a drive up Murphy Dome Road where Jolene Nanouk took a picture of Sergie at the top of the hill.

Shirley Alekok, who was previously testified took the stand once again. The defense questioned her on the statements she had said previously regarding the people she claims she saw in the hallway and stairwell. She noted during the previous trial cross-examination she had made eye contact with Steven Downs in the stairwell after Sergie left to smoke a cigarette and she left to stay the night with her boyfriend Noah Naylor.

The defense asked Alekok why in previous interviews with investigators her descriptions of the people she saw that night seem to vary and asked why she had no mention of Downs until March of 2019. She did state she saw two “ethnic looking” males wearing denim from head to toe, and remembers three individuals in the stairwell, one woman with long “brownish”- hair, and two males, one she later recognized as Downs from a picture she saw of him when he was younger.

The information that seems to be consistent with those interviewed was the weekend Sergie was last seen. She did meet with several friends such as Jolene Nanouk, Joann Sundown, and Shirly Alekok among others. She had gone to the movies and drove with friends to Murphy Dome. The details on what happened after Sergie returned to Bartlett Hall are still being pieced together.

The last witness to take the stand was Vanessa Allen. Allen was a freshman at UAF in 1992-1993.

She lived on the second floor in the Bartlett Dormitories. She recalled the night before Sergie’s body was found she was taking a shower between the timeframe of midnight to one a.m.

Allen said when she went to the shower room she noticed the door to the tub room was closed. “The door was closed and the light was on. That light is just never on.” she explained.

She stated that was very unusual and that no one used that room. She recalls the light had to be manually turned on. This made Allen feel very uneasy.

She realized she forgot her soap and left the bathroom to retrieve it before going back into the shower room a second time. “I kept looking at the light. I felt like something was out of place, that something wasn’t right,” said Allen.

She remembers hearing something that sounded like wrestling in the tub room. She then heard what sounded like firecrackers. " I didn’t know what it was. It was like something telling me I need to get out of the shower,” she added.

Allen said another girl on her floor entered the bathroom and she felt better when she was there.

The Defense asked Allen if she felt safe on her floor. She said yes, explaining that the second floor was quiet and people knew it wasn’t a party floor.

Allen stated shortly after she returned to her room something odd happened. “Someone came by and shook my doorknob,” she said.

The defense asked if she told that to the police, and she stated she thinks she did.

More cross-examination and testimonies are scheduled for tomorrow.

Due to strict rules to the media on recordings, no video or audio were taken and recordings are only given on a case-by-case basis.

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