ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Alaska State Troopers arrested a Maine man on Friday for the murder and sexual assault of a 20-year-old on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in 1993.
AST held a press conference at the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage announcing advances in the case of the murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie, who was found dead in a dormitory bathtub almost 26 years ago.
"For more than 20 years, AST continued to receive info about Sophie's murder," said Colonel Barry Wilson, Director of the Alaska State Troopers. "Each tip generated a response by members of the cold case unit hoping to break the case."
Sergie's body was discovered by a custodian in a UAF dormitory building on April 26, 1993. The young woman, who was previously a UAF student but had withdrawn from school to return home to work instead, was visiting friends in Bartlett Hall on the UAF campus.
Troopers said 44-year-old Steven H. Downs, now living in Auburn, Maine, was arrested and charged with one count each of first-degree sex assault and murder. Downs was a UAF student, Troopers said, who lived in Bartlett Hall - where Sergie was found - at the time of the crime.
"This arrest is the culmination of years of effort and tenacious attention by this department to solve a horrendous murder," said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price.
Back in 1993, DNA technology was not yet being used in Alaska. The break in the case came as cold case unit detectives took another look at it in early 2018. When the Golden State Serial Killer was arrested after leads generated through genetic genealogy testing, Trooper investigators submitted the DNA profile from the crime scene to Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company which utilizes extracted DNA to perform genetic genealogy testing.
The genetic profile developed a likely suspect, and the Maine State Crime Lab had provided information to do an immediate comparison between Downs' DNA profile and profiles developed from swabs taken from Sergie's body. Troopers, too, had determined that Downs - who was 18 years old at the time of the murder - had been a student at UAF and lived in the dormitory where Sergie was found.
Charging documents provided by the State of Alaska detail gruesome elements of the rape and alleged intentional killing of Sergie, of Pitkas Point, Alaska, who had flown from her hometown to Bethel and then to Fairbanks for an orthodontist appointment. According to law enforcement, Sergie was sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times and shot in the back of the head before her body was placed in the dormitory bathtub.
Court documents also show that Nicholas Dazer, Downs' roommate at the time, worked as a security guard for the university and reportedly helped assist authorities in making sure the crime scene wasn't disturbed following the discovery of Sergie's body. He was fired from that position for possessing a firearm, which is against dormitory protocol, but also told authorities that Downs had a .22 caliber handgun in their dorm in 1993.
Downs told authorities just days before his arrest on Friday that he "remember[s] the pictures, it's terrible, poor girl." He denied knowing Sergie, according to charging documents, and said that if he knew anything, he "would've been forthright from the jump." He maintained he was with his girlfriend most of the evening on the night Sergie was killed, and "repeatedly told detectives that he suspected soldiers from Ft. Wainwright were responsible for Sergie's murder because they were often in the building."
Downs had been working in Maine as a registered nurse, though notes of disciplinary action and "unprofessional conduct" appear on his license, which expires in 2020. With the help of Maine authorities, he was arrested Friday at a local business, per AST. Troopers said he was taken into custody without incident and is set to be extradited to Alaska, though he does not yet have a court date.
"Through their dogged persistence, advances in tech and spirit of cooperation exhibited by other agencies that touched this case," Wilson said, "justice for Sophie is finally within reach."