Judge Denies Bail For Auburn Man Accused Of 1993 Killing At Alaska University

Feb 20, 2019

The Auburn man charged in an unsolved crime described as one of Alaska’s most notorious is contesting his extradition to that state to face charges of sexual assault and murder.

Police identified Steven Downs by comparing DNA contributed by one of his relatives to a genealogical database to evidence left at the crime scene on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus nearly 26 years ago.

Downs was an 18-year-old student at the university in April 1993, when a young woman named Sophie Sergie, who was visiting a friend on campus, went missing. She was later found by custodians cleaning a bathroom on the second floor of a co-ed dorm. She had been stabbed, sexually assaulted and shot in the back of the head.

Investigators recovered DNA from the scene. They interviewed dozens of people, collected DNA from some and pursued multiple leads. But the DNA could not be identified until last year, when investigators linked it to DNA submitted to a genealogical website by Downs’ aunt.

At Downs’ initial court appearance in Lewiston District Court on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis told the judge that when police went to Downs’ home in Auburn last week, they were also able to get another DNA sample from Downs.

Matulis said testing by the Maine State Crime Lab determined it matched the DNA that was recovered in the bathroom of the University of Alaska dorm more than two decades ago.

“Based upon that, your honor, the fact that the defendant is facing such serious charges in another state and the likelihood of someone failing to appear in that state or leaving this jurisdiction, the state is asking for the defendant to be held without bail,” he said.

Speaking through the lawyer of the day, Richard Charest, Steven Downs said he does not pose a flight risk. He has ties to the community — his parents live in Auburn, where he graduated from high school and has owned a home since 2004, and where he’s licensed as a registered nurse.

“This is a very old allegation, your honor, he thinks there must be some mistake. He’s asking the court to consider setting bail at $5,000 cash,” Charest said.

Downs refused to waive extradition to Alaska, and Judge John Martin refused to set bail. Downs also asked for counsel to be appointed to him, since he’s currently unemployed. Records from the Maine Board of Nursing show that in 2016 Downs was fired from a job as a nurse at a residential facility in Livermore Falls after mishandling medication and making two co-workers uncomfortable.

Speaking after Tuesday’s court proceeding, Charest said a warrant from the state of Alaska will have to be signed by the governor and delivered to the court before Downs can be extradited against his will.

“So he’s contesting — he doesn’t want to go back to Alaska. He doesn’t feel like he should have to go back to Alaska and he feels like he’s innocent of the allegations,” he said.

Charest said he could not discuss further details, but said Downs does not agree with the charges.

According to a charging document filed in Alaska, Downs and his roommate, Nicholas Dazer, who lived one floor above the crime scene, were both briefly questioned by police in 1993. Both denied having any relevant knowledge about the case.

But in 2010, a cold case investigator re-interviewed Dazer, who had worked as a security guard on campus at the time of the killing and who was later fired from the job for possessing a firearm in his dorm. During that interview, Dazer indicated that Downs also possessed several firearms, including a .22 caliber revolver, consistent with the type of weapon believed to have been used in the crime.

It’s unclear whether investigators followed up with Downs at the time.

Downs’ next court appearance is scheduled for March 18.

Originally published Feb. 19, 2019 at 5:45 p.m. ET.