The Auburn, Maine, man accused of raping and killing 20-year-old Sophie Sergie at a University of Alaska Fairbanks dormitory more than 26 years ago was arraigned in Fairbanks Superior Court on Wednesday.
Steven Harris Downs, 44, is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. His bail is set at $500,000 cash performance bond and $500,000 cash appearance bond, as well as electronic monitoring. Downs pleaded not guilty and his next court appearance will be at a bail hearing at 8:45 a.m. Friday.
Sergie’s body was found in a bloody bathtub at Bartlett Hall on April 26, 1993. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times and shot in the back of the head.
Alaska State Troopers conducted numerous interviews and collected DNA samples and other physical evidence after Sergie’s death but were unable to identify a suspect. Investigators finally got a break after they were able to match DNA left at the scene with that of Downs’ aunt, who had voluntarily submitted her DNA to a genealogical website. Further investigation showed Downs had been a student at UAF from 1992-96, and was living in Bartlett Hall at the time of Sergie’s death.
Downs was arrested by the Maine State Police Tactical Team near his home Feb. 15 and remanded to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. He was transferred to Strafford County Jail in Dover, New Hampshire, in early June and spent the next two months slowly making his way across the United States in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. He made an initial court appearance in Anchorage on Aug. 6 before being transported to Fairbanks and remanded to Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Sergie’s mother, Elena Sergie, participated in the hearing telephonically with the help of a Yupik language interpreter. When told of Downs’ upcoming bail hearing, she asked if he was “going to be let out,” and asked to attend the bail hearing. Superior Court Judge Thomas Temple assured Elena Sergie that she and her interpreter were welcome to attend that hearing and all others throughout the course of the trial.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.