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Sophie Sergie Murder Case Proceeds

Alaska Court System

Most courts proceedings in the state of Alaska are still on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one criminal trial in Fairbanks is proceeding through preliminary steps. Judge Thomas Temple is hearing motions for murder suspect Steven Downs in the 28-year-old cold case of the killing of Sophie Sergie.

20-year old Sophie Sergie (SUR-ghee) was found dead in a dormitory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993. Her case went cold for many years as suspect after suspect was ruled out. However, in 2018, DNA from the crime scene was matched through a commercial database to a former student who had moved back to Maine.

Alaska State Troopers went to Maine to arrest him in February, 2019. After a months-long trip to extradite him to Fairbanks, Stephen Downs has been waiting his day in court. His attorney, James Howaniec, (hoh-WAH-nik) is glad the evidentiary hearing has started this week.

“It’s been pushed off for a year, now, this was already going to be a tough case, and then we get hit with the pandemic. So, we had a conference with the judge, 2 to 3 months ago, and just decided that we’re going to get going on some of these motions pending for a year.”

Howaniec and his law partners have filed 11 motions in the case that Judge Thomas Temple began hearing on Monday, Feb 1.

“What we’ve been litigating the first two days and now will take up the third day is the motion to suppress evidence.”

Downs was an 18-year-old freshman living in the same dormitory at University of Alaska Fairbanks where Sergie’s body was found on April 26, 1993. She had been stabbed, raped and shot. Downs’ roommate at the time told Troopers Downs had owned a .22-caliber revolver that is believed to be the type of gun used to shoot Sergie.

During a search of Downs’ home in Auburn, Maine in 2019, Troopers found a gun matching that description. Downs told investigators he had purchased that gun in 2016 from a private owner in Maine. Howaniec wants the DNA evidence and the gun removed from the case.

“And then the other thing that we really want to get to is our motion to exclude evidence of the gun that was seized from Steven‘s house in Auburn. It’s just simply not the gun, they committed the crime, and we hope to have an opportunity to establish that.“

One other motion is very important to Downs’ defense – the idea that someone else killed Sophie Sergie.

“Sophie was last seen about 1 o’clock, 1:30 AM that Monday morning, April 26, 1993. And this individual was seen coming out of the girls bathroom, the women’s bathroom at that time. Then he subsequently confessed to his sister that he killed Sophie.”

Judge Temple will hear more motions today (Wednesday). Downs is charged with murder in the first degree and sexual assault in the first degree. If his case is not dismissed, he is scheduled for trial in Fairbanks on March 8.