The jury finds Steven Harris Downs guilty of the murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - This was an Alaskan cold case that took 29 years to thaw.
Judge Thomas Temple announced in a Fairbanks Superior Courtroom that the jury unanimously convicted Maine resident, Steven Harris Downs, guilty on both counts of murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie.
“In the State of Alaska versus Steven Downs, are as follows. Verdict form number one, murder in the first-degree of “S.S”, we the jury find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree of “S.S” as charged in count one of the indictment dated at Fairbanks, Alaska the 10th day of February 2022, and by the grand jury foreperson. Verdict form number 2, sexual assault in the first-degree, we the jury find the defendant guilty of sexual assault in the first-degree of “S.S,” as charged in count two of the indictment, dated at Fairbanks, Alaska this 9th day of February 2022, signed by the grand jury foreperson,” said Superior Court Judge Thomas Temple.
It began on April 26th, 1993, when the body of Sophie Sergie was found in a bathtub on the second floor in a women’s dormitory bathroom at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 20-year-old Sergie was from Pitka’s Point, Alaska, and was in Fairbanks for an orthodontic appointment. When she was in Fairbanks for her appointments, she would stay with her former roommate Shirley Akelkok who lived on campus. Although Sergie was not a student in 1993, she was familiar with the campus after being a student the year prior.
During this trip, Sergie visited with friends, went to the movies, and ventured up to Murphy Dome on the outskirts of Fairbanks. A picture that is well-known in the case and used in multiple news articles over the years was taken there. It would be the last picture taken of Sergie.
She returned to the campus late Sunday evening. She had pizza with Akelkok and Noah Naylor then left to smoke a cigarette in the women’s bathroom and never returned.
Sergie’s body was found by the janitorial staff the following Monday afternoon. She was found with multiple stab wounds to the face and abdomen, was sexually assaulted, and died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Detectives followed leads over the years but came up short, never finding who killed Sergie until they got a break with genetic genealogy.
DNA found on Sergie’s body during an autopsy was linked to Steven Downs. Downs was a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in 1993. He lived on the third floor in the Bartlett Hall Dormitories.
26 years after the murder, Downs was living in Auburn, Maine.
In 2019 Maine State Police worked alongside the Alaska State Troopers and interviewed Downs about a murder that took place in 1993 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Downs claimed he remembered the murder, but did not know Sophie Sergie in 1993, and claimed he only knew her from what he heard around campus.
When Alaska detectives brought Downs to the Auburn Police Department, officers collected Downs’ DNA samples and fingerprints and sent them to labs in both Maine and Alaska. Troopers arrested Downs on February 15, 2019.
After an initial court appearance on February 19th, 2019 in Maine, Downs contested his extradition. Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a warrant allowing Downs to be extradited to Alaska on April 18, 2019.
After returning to Alaska, Downs appeared in court on August 5, 2019. Six months later he appeared in court again, on February 1. 2021. During all court hearings, Downs continued to assert his innocence and insisted they had made a mistake and had the wrong person.
On January 12, 2022, the jury trial began. Alaska State prosecutors and Downs defense attorneys brought forth witnesses and evidence to present to the jury. After a five-week trial, jurors heard testimony from approximately 45 witnesses and reviewed more than 150 exhibits.
“After nearly 29 years, the family and friends of Sophie Sergie have finally received the closure and justice they have deserved,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell. “Alaska State Trooper Cold Case Investigator Randy McPherron, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, and the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Lab dedicated a significant amount of time and resources towards the successful prosecution of Mr. Downs and the verdict received today. Our investigators, forensic scientists, and criminal intelligence analysts will continue to run down every viable lead Troopers receive on our cold case investigations to provide the same justice for those victims.”
Chief Assistant Attorney General Jenna Gruenstein and Assistant Attorney General Chris Darnall represented the State at trial.
“We are grateful that Steven Downs was held accountable for his actions after almost 30 years and hope that Sophie’s family and the Fairbanks community as a whole are able to obtain some closure in light of this verdict,” Gruenstein said. “The State acknowledges and appreciates the attention and dedication the jurors paid to this case during what was a long trial. The Department of Law thanks the Alaska State Troopers, the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Lab, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks Police Department, the Maine State Police, and the Auburn Police Department for their partnership and assistance.”
No bail will be allowed for Downs. A sentencing hearing is set for Sept. 26 and 27, 2022.
Downs faces a maximum sentence of 129 years in prison.
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