'There must be some mistake': Cold case murder suspect fights extradition to Alaska
Cold case murder suspect Steven Downs will remain in the Lower 48 for now, after contesting extradition to Alaska during his first court appearance since his arrest in a cold case that is now a quarter of a century old.
At a brief news conference Friday afternoon, troopers announced the Maine arrest of 44-year-old Downs in the 1993 sexual assault and murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
In the courtroom on Tuesday, a handcuffed Downs said very little, but through his attorney, he claimed law enforcement officials had the wrong guy.
"This is a very old allegation your honor," said defense attorney Richard Charest while speaking for his client. "He thinks there must be some mistake."
In a charging document against Downs, prosecutors said Sergie was found in a bathtub on the second floor of UAF's Bartlett Hall. 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.
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 NanoLabs, the same facility used in that case.
Its report showed a hit on one of Downs' relatives.
"We have received a DNA sample from those sperm cells," a prosecutor countered. "We've got a DNA sample from the defendant and the Maine state crime lab says those are a match."
At the time of the killing, Downs was an 18-year-old UAF student who lived in Bartlett Hall, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Defense attorney Charest said Downs would not waive his rights and did not agree to be extradited back to Alaska.
"He doesn't want to go back to Alaska," Charest told the court. "He feels like he shouldn't have to go back to Alaska and he feels like he's innocent of the allegations."
However, Downs is considered a fugitive of justice and is being held without bail.
"My understanding was that there was an Alaskan authority in the courtroom today," Charest told CBS affiliate WGME, "so it's possible they were looking to bring him in the next few days but because he didn't waive and his rights are still intact, they can't force him to go back to Alaska. They have to follow due process."
WGME reports prosecutors are expecting officials in Alaska to formally request Downs' extradition before his next court date on March 18.
WGME-TV in Portland, Maine contributed to this report.
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