Steven Downs arraigned in Fairbanks; defense attorneys visit crime scene
Steven Downs is in Fairbanks and he appeared in court on Wednesday for his arraignment. Downs’ attorneys entered a not guilty plea to Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Thomas Temple.
The mother of Sophie Sergie, appeared in court via telephone and with the aid of a Yup'ik translator took part in the hearing.
Downs is charged with sexual assault in the first degree and first degree murder in the death of Sophie Sergie in 1993. Sergie was found lying in a bathtub on the second floor of Bartlett Hall on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus with multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Downs was arrested in Maine in February of this year after the Alaska State Troopers used new technology to match his DNA to DNA found on Sergie’s body. His attorneys waived extradition to Alaska in May.
"He was transported across the country, spent time in four different prisons across the United States, and now he is here,” said his attorney James Howaniec of Maine.
The crime happened over 26 years ago when Downs was a freshman at UAF. After the murder on campus Alaska State Troopers investigating the case where baffled and the case was considered cold until this year.
Downs continued studying at UAF, eventually graduating. He went on to go to nursing school and became a nurse in Maine.
Howaniec said that Downs is innocent. "Of all the cases that I have done, there have been few where I have been more convinced that my client is innocent. This is a case that I feel very strongly about. So much so that I have flown 4 or 5,000 miles to be here.”
Downs’ family has retained three attorneys to represent him. Howaniec is joined by his partner from Maine, Jesse Archer and Fairbanks attorney, Frank Spaulding.
Howaniec and Spaulding went to UAF before the arraignment hearing to see firsthand where the crime scene was.
Sergie, who was from Pitkas Point and visiting Fairbanks when she was killed was staying with friends on the second floor of Bartlett Hall. Downs’ room was on the third floor and his girlfriend at the time, lived on the fourth floor. Downs’ attorneys say he spent most of the night of the murder with his girlfriend on the fourth floor.
They also went the bathroom where Sergie’s body was found. Sergie was found lying on her back in the tub with her pants and underwear removed and her shirt pushed up over her breasts. She was found with multiple stab wounds on her face and a gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Downs’ attorneys believe that there are other explanations and suspects for the crime and hope to prove it in court.
We spoke with Jenna Gruenstein with the Office of Special Prosecution who will try the case but she declined to comment on the case.
Downs next court date will be on August 16 when he is scheduled to have a bail hearing.