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Numerous witness testimonies describe the inside of the women’s bathroom where Sophie Sergie was found

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 6:57 AM AKST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2022 at 10:33 AM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -

The jury trial for Steven Downs continued with Okaha Ancheta, a woman who worked at the University of Alaska Fairbanks during the time of Sophie Sergie’s murder as a member of the janitorial staff.

One of her duties was to clean the women’s bathrooms in the Bartlett dormitory. Ancheta stated at the time, only she and a supervisor were working. Her supervisor would clean the toilet area and she would clean the showers and the tub area.

On the afternoon of April 26th, 1993, Ancheta found the body of a woman in the tub room on the second floor. That woman would later be identified as Sophie Sergie.

State Prosecutor Jenna Gruenstein questioned Ancheta if she had touched the body she had found and if she had seen anyone else enter the restroom.

“At the time it was my supervisor and I, when we are cleaning nobody can come in,” she explained.

She said when her supervisor went into the tub area, Ancheta left and stood by the entrance door.

“I was shivering. I was scared. I don’t know, how I’m going to describe. I was so scared, that’s all. That’s why after a little while I just quit the job.” said Ancheta. She had been employed at the job for less than a year.

Don Foley also testified. At the time he was working as the Director of Residence Life. His job was to oversee campus life, including the dormitories. Foley said he received a call shortly after lunch that there was a major emergency at Bartlett Hall.

“I started to walk over, and as I was walking by the police station, Chief Dale Florian was leaving in his car and he said hop in we have an emergency, and so I went up to the building with him,” said Foley.

Foley described a somewhat chaotic scene when he arrived to Bartlett Hall, around 1 p.m. He explained in order to enter the Bartlett Dormitories, one would have to enter through the main complex. He said at the time it was called “MBS,” which stood for Moore, Bartlett, and Scarland.

When he arrived, Foley was asked by police to help mitigate the traffic of students and personnel within the building. “Crowd control, for lack of a better word,” he said.

Foley noted during this time students were getting ready for finals with some students busy studying, and others that were getting ready to leave for the year.

“It was just before finals so the troopers were very interested in knowing what those finals schedules were and if people might have left the building,” he said.

Defense Attorney James Howaniec asked Foley what the policy was for weapons on the campus.

“There was continuous discussion of students having weapons and in fact, when I had spoken with various students, we had a policy we had gun lockers that we told people if they were going hunting or what have you that they could put their guns in there, they would be locked away and if they gave us 24-hour notice that we would go ahead and release them. We did that because we had police that there was not to be any weapons in the residential facility,” said Foley.

Howaniec questioned Foley as to how students entered the complex if there were keys administered, and what he did to question students regarding the incident.

Foley explained the “MBS” was interconnected. Students had a key to the main building, then a separate key to their dormitory complex, and another for their room. He explained Bartlett and Moore had roughly 350 students in each building and Scarland was a smaller building that held roughly 100 students.

Foley said the doors were always locked, but with 700 students, it was hard to maintain people coming in and out.

Now retired, Mitch Flynn testified next. He was working as Battalion Chief for the University Fire Department during the time of the murder and responded to the scene.

Flynn was also questioned on the preservation of the crime scene and asked if Sergie’s body was altered in any way.

“Once we determined she was deceased, I had my crew exit the room to preserve the crime scene,” said Flynn.

He addressed some of the personal protective equipment or “PPE” that first responders wore back in 1993. Flynn admitted that wearing PPE was still a new practice for first responders back then. They did not wear masks, but he does recall they did wear gloves.

Finally, the last witness to take the stand was James Wolfe. Wolfe is a retired forensic scientist. During those days he said his job title was then called a Criminalist.

Wolfe and another colleague Dan Fullerton worked forensic analysis at the scene. They flew into Fairbanks on April 26, 1993, and arrived on the scene around 8:30 p.m.

Wolfe worked in areas that focused on trace evidence, biological evidence, shoe print evidence, and crime scene work.

Trace evidence is a type of physical evidence that is small and hard to find. “Typically when we think of trace evidence it would be things such as hairs, fibers, but it would also include paint chips, or pretty much any type of evidence that is small and requires some kind of microscopic analysis,” Wolfe explained.

Gruenstien asked Wolfe to explain what would be considered biological evidence.

“Biological evidence would encompass pretty much anything, especially with human cases, it would involve body fluids,” said Wolfe. “So we would be looking at things such as blood, semen, saliva. Some evidence we would collect such as urine, that would also fall in that category.”

He explained what he and his colleague did when they arrived.

“We would arrive at the scene. We would initially try and get as much information as we could, either from the investigator or other officers there. We would then go ahead, do like a preliminary survey of the scene just to see what we had,” he said. “Between the two of us, we would decide who would be responsible for like say, the photography, who would be more responsible for collecting certain types of evidence, and then in the midst of that, probably a big step in that is evaluating what we have to make decisions on the types of evidence we might be collecting.”

He said as they initially went through the scene they would look to find things of interest or items that could be collected as evidence. They would then continue to document those through either photography, sketching, or notes. “Once things were thoroughly documented, we would then go ahead and physically preserve that evidence,” said Wolfe.

He explained to jurors and the courtroom the process of how and why they collected photos and forensic samples from the scene.

“The bottom line is we are trying to tell a story. So from going from the overall views from medium views to close-up views we just try and help people understand not only what evidence looks like but where it is located.”

The prosecution moved through a series of photos Wolfe had taken at the time he arrived on the scene, explaining why it is important to document everything for preservation purposes. He also explained why they used White and UV light on the scene, and Luminol, a chemical agent that reacts with hemoglobin in the blood. When used, it can show where blood stains are not visible, and if a scene was cleaned, Luminol will expose where there was once a bloodstain.

The trial will continue tomorrow, Friday, January 21, 2022.

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