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Stories related to the investigation and trial

Attorneys ask for new trial for Sophie Sergie murder convict

Obtained by prior permission of the Alaska Court System, this photo of Sophie Sergie was taken by her friend, Joann Sundown on April 24, 1993.
Joann Sundown
Used by permission
Obtained by prior permission of the Alaska Court System, this photo of Sophie Sergie was taken by her friend, Joann Sundown on April 24, 1993.

Steven Downs was convicted on circumstantial evidence, say his lawyers, who are asking for acquittal or a new trial. They filed a motion in Fairbanks Superior Court last week. It is attached here.

Defense attorneys for the man convicted of killing Sophie Sergie have asked for a new trial. A motion filed in Fairbanks Superior Court last week (Feb. 14) asks the court to throw out the February 10th conviction of Steven Downs for the 1993 rape and murder.

They give four reasons to acquit or re-try Downs, who is now 47, and was an 18-year-old university student living in the same dormitory where the crime was committed.

In the motion, they say the prosecutors introduced witnesses whose testimony didn’t offer relevant evidence but misled the jury. They say there was misconduct on the part of prosecutors and the lead investigator in the case, Trooper Randel McPherron.

DNA was the central evidence against Downs, who was not connected to the crime any other way. Investigators found a .22 caliber pistol at Downs’ home in Maine in 2019, but could not link it to the .22 bullet thought to have killed Sophie Sergie in 1993.

During closing arguments, defense counsel James Howaniec said the state’s case was circumstantial, because the defendant’s DNA at the scene doesn’t prove he did the crime.

The state has presented very thin evidence. They presented speculation, theories about what happened. There's no gun that's connected to this crime. There's no knife. There are no witnesses. There's no motive. What could possibly be the motive of this happy, well-adjusted, 18 year old?

Another argument for a new trial is the defense team’s confidential conversations with their client were monitored by the Department of Corrections, when Downs was awaiting trial at Fairbanks Correctional Center. The motion states attorneys James Howaniec and Jesse Archer got an email message from prosecutor Christopher Darnall the day after talking with their client, saying their telephone conversation was monitored.

The motion says Archer subpoenaed Fairbanks Correctional Center in January, asking for telephone records, but the jail has ignored the subpoena.

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.