FAIRBANKS — A Maine man pleaded not guilty in the rape and killing of a young Alaska Native woman more than 25 years ago at a University of Alaska Fairbanks dormitory.
Steven Downs, 44, of Auburn is charged with first-degree murder and felony sexual assault in the 1993 death of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
Sergie had been an UA Fairbanks student but was not enrolled on April 26, 1993, when she stayed with a friend at the Bartlett Hall dormitory. She was last seen alive when she left to smoke a cigarette. Her friend had suggested she smoke near exhaust vents in the women’s tub room to avoid cold temperatures outside.
Sergie’s body was found in a bloody bathtub. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed and shot in the back of the head.
Downs entered his plea Wednesday in Fairbanks Superior Court and bail was set at $1 million.
Downs’ attorney, Frank Spaulding, said he will attempt to get Downs’ bail reduced at a hearing Friday.
“Our objective is to make sure we do our job and do everything we can do encourage people to keep an open mind until all the facts are presented,” Spaulding said.
Alaska State Troopers conducted numerous interviews and collected DNA samples and other physical evidence after the killing but could not identify a suspect.
New DNA technology led troopers to Downs. Investigators submitted an as-yet unknown DNA profile from Sergie’s case in 2018 to Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company that uses extracted DNA to perform genetic genealogy testing.
The DNA was linked to Downs’ aunt, who had voluntarily submitted DNA to a genealogical website, troopers said.
Downs was a UA Fairbanks student from 1992-96. He lived at Bartlett Hall when Sergie died.
Maine State Police arrested Downs on Feb. 15 near his home. He was later transferred to Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Sergie’s mother, Elena Sergie, participated in the arraignment by telephone with assistance from a Yupik language interpreter. Told of Downs’ upcoming bail hearing, she asked if he was “going to be let out.” She asked to attend the bail hearing.
The judge told Elena Sergie that she and her interpreter were welcome to attend that hearing and all others.