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Thread: Steven H. Downs arrested on 1993 rape and murder of Sophie Sergie, after familial DNA identified him as a suspect

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    Steven H. Downs arrested on 1993 rape and murder of Sophie Sergie, after familial DNA identified him as a suspect

    https://mustreadalaska.com/cold-case...sergie-murder/

    The Alaska State Troopers think they have arrested the murderer of Sophie Sergie, who was found dead in a dorm bathroom at University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993.

    Law enforcement executed an arrest warrant today in Auburn, Maine for a man, Steven H. Downs, believed to be the murderer. He is a 44-year-old nurse. The news was announced during a 3 pm press conference at the State?s crime laboratory in Anchorage. The man will be brought to Alaska to face charges.

    The perpetrator?s DNA was found at the scene, Troopers said today. But until recent technology, no link had been made to any person, although the hunt for the killer went on for decades.

    Last year, the investigators began working with a lab in Virginia that had more sophisticated systems for linking DNA and genetic histories of families.

    Must Read Alaska has learned that the man?s aunt took a DNA test, and the link was made to someone who may have once been interviewed about the death.

    Sergie was 20 years old when she was murdered early on April 26, 1993. She was from Pitkas Point, a Native village of about 125 people in Western Alaska. At about 2 pm on the second floor of the Bartlett Hall dormitory, a janitor found Sergie?s body stuffed in a bathtub.

    Sergie had been brutally raped, her pants pulled down around her ankles. The cause of death was a gunshot and investigators determined she?d been dead about 13 hours. Her body had gone undiscovered because it was in a private tub room.

    Sergie was not a student at the time. She had taken the semester off, but had returned to Fairbanks to have her braces adjusted by an orthodontist, so she was staying in the dorm with a friend.

    In those days, people came and went freely from the dorms and it was not uncommon for friends to come from out of town to stay a night or two with a student. It was the end of the term and people were coming and going from campus. Anyone could have accessed the women?s floor via the elevator or the stairs, and the student population was in a state of transition.

    Investigators concluded that it was a random killing, and that Sergie didn?t know her murderer. One of the mysteries in the case was why no one in the dorm heard the gunshot, and later theories developed that the woman was killed elsewhere and then her body placed in the bathtub.

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    Senior Member Lily Rivers's Avatar
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    How accurate is Familial(?) DNA esp coming from his aunt and not one of his parents?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lily Rivers View Post
    How accurate is Familial(?) DNA esp coming from his aunt and not one of his parents?
    It's accurate. It gets them to where they need to be to narrow down family members, then they use geneology to figure out who they are looking for and then get a DNA sample from that person to make sure it's a match. It might get them to a family where there are several brothers (or sisters if they are looking for a female) and then they have to actually test DNA to get the right one. They probably trailed this guy for awhile and took DNA long before they arrested him.

    I think the crime fighting aspect of it is great, but the privacy aspect of familial DNA gives me nightmares.

    You should read about DNA Doe Project. They are using the same concept to give UID's back their names.

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    https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime...=.95a1f3e57fc2

    Downs was charged with sexual assault and murder, the Alaska State Troopers said. He is also charged in Maine with being a fugitive of justice, said Sgt. Tim Lajoie of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department in Maine. Downs did not yet have an attorney, Lajoie said Saturday, and extradition to Alaska will be addressed when the charge in Maine has been resolved.

    Sophie Sergie, who aspired to be a marine biologist, was a student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks but left school to save money for orthodontic work. She took three flights to Fairbanks from Pitkas Point — a tiny, verdant town on the Yukon River in western Alaska — to have the work performed.

    Shirley Wasuli was happy to have her friend in town. Sergie was happy, too: A photo taken that night shows her with a wide smile, her arms stretched out wide against a ground cover of snow.

    Wasuli prepared a bed in her room on the female-only second floor of Bartlett Hall and, with her boyfriend in tow, hosted Sergie for a night of pizza and catching up. Sergie stepped out for a smoke. It was cold, Wasuli told her, and she suggested huddling by the bathroom exhaust vent to avoid going outside.

    Witnesses later said she smoked with a group outside, wearing a brightly colored striped sweater poking out from the fringes of her jacket in the photo.

    By 1:30 a.m., Sergie had not returned. Wasuli left a note on her door, explaining that she and her boyfriend were sleeping in another dorm. When Wasuli arrived the next morning, she found the note still on the door. The bed was undisturbed. She called the orthodontist; Sergie had missed her appointment.

    University janitors found her body that afternoon in a bathtub on the second floor, her sweater and pants half-removed. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed in the face and shot in the back of a head with a .22-caliber firearm. Investigators found her cigarette lighter when they moved her body. She still wore her socks and shoes.

    Investigators canvassed the area and interviewed students who had been at Bartlett Hall, including Downs, then an 18-year-old student, and his roommate Nicholas Dazer, who also worked as a security guard on campus and helped secure the scene. They denied having any knowledge of the crime.

    Police recovered the suspect’s DNA from Sergie’s body. At the time, the district court filing said, DNA processing technology had not been introduced in Alaska. A DNA profile confirming the suspect as male was uploaded in 2000, but it did not match anyone in the FBI’s database.

    The case went dormant for years. In 2010, a cold case investigator sought to re-interview everyone who lived at Bartlett Hall.

    They asked Dazer about weapons. He denied having a gun that fired .22-caliber rounds, but he did recall his roommate had an H & R .22-caliber revolver. But the markings, a forensic scientist concluded, were consistent with many other firearms of the same caliber. It is not clear whether investigators spoke with Downs about the weapon.

    The case spiraled back into an unsolved mystery.

    Then the alleged “Golden State Killer” was captured.
    A forensic genealogist prepared a report on Dec. 18, comparing the suspect’s genetic material from the crime scene to likely relatives. A woman’s DNA profile emerged in the search.

    Investigators found their link: She was an aunt of Downs’s.

    Maine State Police visited Downs on Wednesday at his home. Downs denied any knowledge but said he remembered posters of Sergie’s face on campus, according to the police. “I remember the pictures. It’s terrible, poor girl,” he told officers, suggesting that soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Wainwright at the time should be investigated.

    A cheek swab was taken the next day for DNA testing. It was a match with the original DNA sample, police said. Downs was arrested without incident.
    http://www.newsminer.com/news/alaska...6e2a536ee.html

    Steven Harris Downs, 44, was discharged for “a totality of substandard performance,” according to a Maine Board of Nursing disciplinary document.

    Downs will be extradited to Fairbanks and prosecuted on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault.

    According to online records, Downs had been working as a registered nurse at Harris House, a 12-bed intermediate care facility for people with intellectual disabilities in Livermore Falls, Maine, when he was fired April 11, 2016.

    In January 2016, a co-worker at the facility accused Downs of making statements that made the person uncomfortable. The allegations were handled internally and Downs apologized to the co-worker.

    Two months later, a second co-worker complained that Downs “made her uncomfortable through his words and actions when discussing a resident care matter,” according to the document.

    Downs was also found to have mishandled medications several times in February and March of 2016. According to the document, Downs administered medication to patients hours after he documented doing so, pre-poured medications into unlabeled cups and gave a patient a pill before it was due.

    An official complaint was prepared after Harris House notified the nursing board of Downs’ alleged actions and subsequent firing. Downs responded, disagreeing with former employer’s assessment of his performance. Downs said his medication practices were the result of the facility being short staffed and busy, according to the document.

    The nursing board voted to offer Downs a consent agreement and disciplinary terms including a warning and a requirement that he complete a professional boundaries course. Downs completed the course and signed an agreement admitting he failed to follow policies designed to safeguard his patients and engaged in behavior that exceeded professional boundaries.

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    https://www.sunjournal.com/2019/03/2...pe-and-murder/

    A judge denied bail Wednesday for a local man charged with raping and killing a woman in 1993 in Fairbanks, Alaska, while he was student there.
    Steven H. Downs, 44, “adamantly denies any involvement in this heinous crime,” his lawyer said.

    Defense attorney James Howaniec told an Androscoggin County Superior Court judge his client should be allowed bail pending his extradition to Alaska to face the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of up to 99 years in prison.

    Howaniec said Downs knows little about the evidence underlying the charges against him. He didn’t receive an indictment detailing the charges from that state until Friday, Howaniec said.
    Downs had been with his girlfriend, not “in the vicinity of the crime scene,” on the night of the homicide, Howaniec said.
    The gruesome “rage crime” that was committed against 20-year-old Sophie Sergie, who had been visiting a friend at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in April 1993, was “just completely alien to anything we have seen in this (Downs) individual’s background,” Howaniec said.

    Sergie was shot in the back of the head and stabbed in both eyes, one while alive and the other after she was dead, Howaniec said.

    He said the lack of incriminating evidence shared with his client so far “raises serious concerns about the integrity of this investigation and the provability of the case.”

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    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news...es-tossed-in-/

    The lawyer for a Maine man charged in a rape and killing more than 25 years ago at the University of Alaska Fairbanks wants a judge to dismiss the case, citing alleged flaws in the investigation and raising questions about the DNA evidence.

    Attorney James Howaniec wrote in a series of motions filed Monday that the crime scene was “badly botched,” the investigation was flawed and that the only physical evidence consists of “few spermatozoa molecules,” the Sun Journal reported.
    The case went unsolved for years before DNA evidence led to Downs’ arrest earlier this year.

    But the defense contends the evidence may have been mishandled and that there’s no other physical evidence to link Downs to the crime scene. The defense is also challenging the government’s search of genealogical sites, saying it amounts to an unconstitutional search.

    The defense said the crime scene was a mess because more than a dozen people had entered the bathroom where Sergie’s body was found before police investigators arrived. None of the physical evidence found at the crime scene, including body and pubic hair, fingerprints, blood, and a boot print, was a match to Downs, the defense said.

    The defense also contends another man allegedly confessed to his sister that he killed Sergie. The other man, who was later arrested in connection with a different homicide, has a history of violence against women, according to the court documents.

    Defense attorneys characterized Downs as having been “a healthy, good looking, popular, happy, intelligent, dean’s list student from a solid family in Maine.”
    Yeah, cause all that stuff the defense said would prevent him from being a rapist and/or murderer.

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    https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/crim...ictims-friend/

    Murder trial of Maine man begins in Fairbanks with testimony from victim’s friend

    The DNA of an Auburn, Maine, man accused of murdering and sexually assaulting an Alaska Native woman nearly three decades ago was found inside her body, prosecutors told the jury Wednesday on the first day of Steven H. Downs’ trial in Fairbanks.

    Downs, 47, sat at a table in Fairbanks Superior Court dressed in a button-down shirt and sweater vest. He has awaited trial since his extradition to Alaska from Maine in 2020.

    His lawyer, James Howaniec, of Lewiston told the jury of 10 women and six men, including four alternates, that prosecutors had left out many important facts in their opening statement.

    “You will have reasonable doubt as to whether Steven Downs committed this crime,” Howaniec said. “You will be convinced that he’s innocent of this crime. And by the end of this trial, you will know who committed this crime.”

    Howaniec described the prosecutors’ case as “extremely thin,” saying, “They have some evidence that there was sexual contact, and that’s all they have.”

    Assistant Attorney General Christopher Darnall said the victim, Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, had been staying the weekend of April 25, 1993, with a friend who was a student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

    Sergie had been a student there, but was taking a year off to work so she could get health insurance to help pay for needed orthodontia.

    Investigators said Sergie had been shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber gun, stabbed in the cheek and eye, struck with a blunt instrument, gagged with a ligature and shocked with a stun gun.

    The medical examiner said Sergie died from a bullet fired into her head.

    Police arrested Downs after his DNA was matched in late 2018 to evidence found at the crime scene through a random hit after Downs’ aunt had submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

    Prosecutors said Downs was a student at the college and had been seen in the same dormitory around the time Sergie’s body was found. He had possessed the same type of weapons — a gun and a knife — that had inflicted injuries found on Sergie’s body, they said.

    Sergie’s friend Shirley Akelkok testified Wednesday she and her boyfriend, Noah, and Sergie had eaten pizza in Akelkok’s dorm room on the second floor of Bartlett Hall on that Sunday night.

    Afterward, Sergie wanted to smoke a cigarette, so Akelkok suggested she smoke inside the bathroom down the hall because there was a large vent and it was very cold outside.

    Akelkok left minutes later with her boyfriend to go to his room at a different dorm for the night. She said she never again saw Sergie, who was supposed to sleep that night at Akelkok’s dorm room.

    The next day, Akelkok said she returned to her dorm room to find all of Sergie’s things still there, the door unlocked and the lights and television on, as they had been the night before when she had left.

    Akelkok testified she had told investigators years later she had made eye contact with Downs as she and her boyfriend were leaving her dorm room the night Sergie went to smoke a cigarette.

    Akelkok said she had been shown a photograph of Downs as he appeared in 1993 and recognized him. She said did not know who he was at the time.

    Downs had lived on the third floor of Bartlett Hall during his freshman year. At the time of Sergie’s slaying, he had been staying on the fourth floor of the dormitory with his girlfriend, who was having a party that night, Akelkok told investigators.

    Assistant Attorney General Darnall said Downs’ girlfriend told police Downs had not been with her the entire time that night.

    Darnall also told the jury Downs’ girlfriend told police she had gone shooting one day with Downs during that time and that the gun they fired small-caliber ammunition.

    Downs’ roommate told investigators Downs owned a .22-caliber gun at the time, Darnall told jurors.

    Howaniec disputed many of Darnall’s assertions, including Downs’ alleged ownership of a gun while at school.

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    https://www.wmtw.com/article/trial-o...sion/38987709#

    Trial of Maine man accused of three-decade old murder in Alaska nears conclusion

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    https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/crim...d-case-murder/

    Jury finds Maine man guilty in Fairbanks cold-case murder

    A Fairbanks jury on Thursday found Steven Downs guilty of the murder and rape of a 20-year-old woman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993 when he was a student there.
    The jury deliberated for days before reaching a verdict Thursday morning. Downs was found guilty on both charges, first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault.

    ?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,? chief assistant attorney general Gruenstein said in a prepared statement.

    Howaniec said by phone Thursday that Downs and his team of defense lawyers were disappointed by the verdict and that there would likely be an appeal.

    ?It was a very emotional and difficult case,? he said. ?Obviously, we continue to believe in the innocence of our client, but we also respect the process and we respect the jury?s verdict.?

    Howaniec said questions about genetic genealogy will likely be raised on appeal. The science is relatively new, and Downs is the first man in Alaska to stand trial for a charge that resulted from genetic genealogy. The science is controversial when used by law enforcement because it could infringe on constitutional rights, Howaniec said.

    ?A lot of people across the country are watching this case and wondering whether it?s going to go up to the Supreme Court, and this could be the opportunity to litigate that,? he said. ?So we?ll see.?

    Downs is being held without bail at the Fairbanks Correctional Center and is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 129 years.

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