Troopers make Maine arrest in 25-year-old Fairbanks murder
Alaska State Troopers have arrested a man in the cold-case Fairbanks death of a Pitkas Point woman a quarter century ago.
At a brief news conference Friday afternoon, troopers announced the Maine arrest of 44-year-old Steven H. Downs in the 1993 sexual assault and murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“This arrest is the result of more than 20 years of attention and tenacious effort to solve this murder,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price, surrounded by Sergie’s family in Anchorage. “I and our department continue to send our sympathy to Sophie's family.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, troopers said Sergie had flown to Fairbanks on April 24, 1993 for an appointment. While she was in town, she had been staying with a friend at UAF’s Bartlett Hall before she was scheduled to fly home April 26.
“Sophie was last seen alive shortly after midnight when she left the dorm to smoke a cigarette,” troopers wrote. “She was found dead in a bathtub at Bartlett Hall at [UAF] that afternoon when a janitor showed up to clean. Initial investigation was determined that Sophie had been sexually assaulted and murdered.”
The Sergie case was given to troopers’ Cold Case Unit, but not forgotten by Alaska’s leaders. Sen. Lisa Murkowski invoked Sergie’s name in November, as she discussed a report on limited coverage of deaths like hers.
In a charging document against Downs, prosecutors said Sergie was found in a bathtub on the second floor. She had multiple stab wounds to her face but an autopsy determined it was a close-range gunshot to the back of the head that killed her. The medical examiner concluded Sergie had been alive when she suffered the stab wounds.
Downs had no previous arrests and his DNA had never been uploaded to national criminal databases. However, after the arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer in California based on commercially available DNA databases, troopers submitted DNA from Sergie’s case to Parabon Nanalabs, the same facility used in that case.
Its report showed a hit on one of Downs' relatives.
“Armed with the new information, the CCU was able to conduct follow up investigation to determine that Downs (18 at the time of the killing) had been a student at UAF at the time Sophie was killed,” troopers wrote in a statement. “Furthermore, Downs lived in Bartlett Hall at UAF. From there, CCU worked with Maine authorities to bring the case to fruition.”
A search warrant was executed to search Down’s home in Maine and to get a sample of his DNA. The Maine State Crime lab analyzed Downs' DNA profile and confirmed a match found from Sergie’s vaginal swabs after her death.
Downs was taken into custody Friday at a business in Auburn, Maine, with help from local authorities.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a statement on the Sergie case Friday afternoon, hoping the new developments bring closure to her family.
“While today’s arrest may bring a measure of relief to Sophie’s family and friends, First Lady Rose and I know nothing can completely heal their pain and sense of loss,” Dunleavy said. “We hope and pray for Sophie’s family as the case unfolds in the judicial system in the months ahead.”
Downs is being extradited from Maine to face justice in Sergie’s death.
Shannon Ballard and Dave Goldman contributed information to this story.
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