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Jury hears interrogation recordings in Fairbanks cold-case murder trial; closing arguments on Monday.

Randel McPherron
Alaska Court System
Alaska's only cold-case investigator, Randel McPherron, far right, testifies in Fairbanks Superior court Wednesday, February 2, 2022 about interrogating murder suspect Steven Downs at his home and Auburn Police station in Auburn, Maine on February 14th, 2019. image was screenshot with prior permission of Fairbanks Superior Court for use in this story.

Law enforcement officers who arrested Steven Downs for the 1993 rape and murder of Sophie Sergie, testified at Downs’s trial in Fairbanks Wednesday, February 2. Downs was a University of Alaska Fairbanks student who lived in the UAF dorm where Sergie’s body was found. This story talks of violence and might be traumatizing to some listeners.

Police Detective Corporal Jay Pelletier from the Maine State Police Unsolved Homicide Unit testified Wednesday about how he, Alaska State Troopers and Auburn city police watched Steven Downs’ house for days in February 2019, looking for an opportunity to pull something from his garbage they could get a DNA sample from. Pelletier said they eventually knocked on his door.

“February 13, 2019. He just kind of led us into the dining room.”

Prosecutors played a recording of Peletier interviewing Downs. In the recording, Downs recounts how he and his college roommate Nick Dazer remember so many were questioned by Troopers after Sergie was found dead in a dorm bathroom.

If we would have known anything from the jump, you know, we would have spoken up, me  and Nick,” he said.

“We were furious, furious. Always, um, supporting women, looking out for them. Nick was a security guard and that's why they went and talked to him. ‘Cause he was on duty that night and he was out and about.”

Jay Pelletier from Maine.jpg
Alaska Court System
Police Detective Corporal Jay Pelletier from the Maine State Police Unsolved Homicide Unit testifies by videoconference.

Alaska cold case investigator, Trooper Randel McPherron testified that he was already in Maine, and went to question Downs at his home the next day February 14th.

“Went to his house - initially he acted a little surprised, and that's understandable, we’d come all the way from Alaska. But he quickly was very friendly, invited us in. We sat down in his living room and started talking with him,” McPherron said.

Prosecutors played about a half hour-long recording of McPherron questioning Downs.

McPherron: “And you didn't know the girl that got killed? “

Downs: “No, I've never heard of her. “

Never heard of her and never met her?”

Downs: “No.”

McPherron: “And they showed you the photos we sent.”

Downs: “Oh yeah, I remember the pictures too, there were posters.”

McPherron: “I mean, it was plastered all over.”

 Downs: “And there was a big reward too.”

McPherron: “And you had no contact with her. Didn't at all.”

Downs: “I mean, I was just total mystified.”

McPherron testified that he told Downs DNA found in the victim matched his, and the Troopers asked him to go to the police office to get fingerprints and a DNA sample.

“He agreed to drive himself down there. He drove down, we followed him down, we met him at the Auburn Police Department,” he said.

At the police station, McPherron and Sargent (now Lt) Ramin Dunford recorded another interview with Downs, which prosecutors played for the jury on Wednesday.

McPherron: “We took the DNA sample that was found, it was found inside Sophie's body, in her vagina. They were able to develop a full profile from this sample. It came down to you. You're the source of the DNA. It's you, Steve. And that's why we're here.”

Downs: “There’s no way that could be possible.”

In the recording, McPherron tries to get Downs to confess to the rape and murder. He tells Downs his graduate degree and nursing career have helped people.

Downs: “I’ve never hurt anyone in my life.”

McPherron: “You are basically a very good person; you’ve done some good things in your life. You help people, that’s very commendable. Sophie deserves the truth”

Downs: “I’ve always been a gentleman. No. It’s just not possible.”

McPherron: “It’s time for you to get rid of this, Steve. It’s time to unburden yourself.”

Downs: “Do what you need to do, but there’s got to be an explanation for it, ‘cause it’s not me.”

Some of those exchanges were edited for time.

Defense attorneys began to question McPherron, but time ran out for the day’s court session.

This is the only jury trial in Fairbanks right now and to prevent COVID-19, the court has closed the courtroom, but is video streaming the trial on the Alaska Court System website. Prior permission to record the proceeding for this story was granted.

It is likely the prosecution will rest its case on Thursday and Downs’ defense attorneys will call their witnesses. Closing arguments could come as early as Friday.

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.