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Criminologist report details crime scene photos of Sophie Sergie's murder.

James Wolfe with report.jpg
Alaska Court System
James Wolfe, far right at witness desk, reviews his 1993 report of the crime scene. Wolfe was a criminologist from the Alaska Crime Lab crew who gathered evidence for the Sophie Sergie murder case on April 26 that year. Image accessed from Alaska Court System video stream with prior permission of Fairbanks Superior Court.

Former Alaska Crime Lab forensic scientist recalls evidence collection

A janitor who found the body and a forensic expert who examined the scene of Sophie Sergie’s murder testified Thursday in the trial of Steven Downs. Downs is accused of sexually assaulting and killing Sergie in a university dormitory in 1993. Others who worked the scene that day also were called as witnesses.

Some of the comments heard in this story are graphic and may be uncomfortable for listeners.

The first person who reported seeing the murder victim’s body was Okcha Ancheta. She was cleaning the bathroom on the second floor of UAF’s Bartlett Hall Monday afternoon, April 26. Ancheta testified by videoconference from Anchorage. She said that while her work partner cleaned the toilets, she usually cleaned the shower and bathtub room.

"Some shower room is curtain just open, and some shower room is usually open, but that time was closed. And then when I open curtain and then I saw - I was screaming-- when I open and then there's a bath tub, and then I saw a young lady lying down."

Ancheta ran screaming from the tub area. She said her work partner joined her and then went to report what they had seen. Within minutes, university police and fire arrived at the dorm.

Mitch Flynn worked for the university fire department for 25 years. He was a battalion chief on duty that Monday in 1993, and he arrived at the Bartlett Hall bathroom shortly after other fire and police officers.

"When I came in, I first saw my medic and, uh, and one of the other medics in there. And when I went into the bathroom, looked to the right, then there was a body sit in a sitting position with the knees up, in the bathtub. Her pants had been pulled down – ‘twas a female. And her shirt was gone, her head was leaning forward.

Um, there were wounds, but I couldn't tell at the time, if they're gunshot wounds or stab wounds. Once we determined that, uh, she was deceased. I had my crew exit the room, in order to preserve the crime."

Alaska State Troopers also arrived and called the state crime lab in Anchorage to ask for forensic help. In trial on Thursday, James Russel Wolfe testified that his team flew to Fairbanks and arrived in the evening of April 26.

“The first impression was that it just seemed very clean for a crime scene where blood was shed.”

He testified that their job was to gather evidence.

“And we did a close exam. We looked at the walls, the doors, the toilets went through the garbage containers.”

Wolfe said the forensic team photographed the whole area before disturbing anything.

We went ahead, did closer photographs of her body, documenting both how she laid in the tub and then close ups of her body showing features on her body.

The court is video streaming the proceedings on the court system’s website. However, no one can record sound or pictures from the video stream without prior permission. The court granted prior permission for this recording.

Diagrams, photographs and other visual evidence are projected to jurors on TVs in the courtroom.

Blurred video feed. so pictures aren't seen.jpg
Alaska Court System
The court clerk blurred the public video feed of the trial, so sensitive photos of the crime scene are not seen outside the courtroom.

The court blurred out the public video stream when photographs of the victim’s body were shown to the jury.

They're um, photos showing both overall views of the victim in the bathtub, and then closer views of the victim, her injuries and her clothing.

Wolfe was only about halfway through his testimony before court adjourned on Thursday.

Also testifying on Thursday was Jerilyn Nelson, who was a 2nd floor resident at the time. But she could not remember what she had told investigators in the days after the crime 29 years ago.

And another long-time UAF employee, Don Foley, who, in 1993, was the Director of Residence Life for the university. He said he got a call that day from Dominic Salini, who was the Hall Director for Bartlett, that there was a major emergency. He stayed at the scene through the day and convened a student meeting in the evening, to explain to dorm residents what had happened.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.