Suspect arrested for 25-year-old murder of UAF student

Sophie Sergie (Photo courtesy of Alaska State Troopers)

There’s a break in a murder case that has haunted Fairbanks for over a quarter century. Alaska State Troopers held a press conference Friday identifying a Maine man as a suspect in a 1993 sexual assault and murder at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

On a late April night in 1993, 20-year-old Sophie Sergie was raped, stabbed, shot and left dead in a bathtub at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bartlett Hall dormitory. Genetic samples retrieved from Sergie’s body never matched those in criminal data bases, but cross-referenced against a broader set compiled for genealogical research in recent years, provided a path to finding a match. It’s the same way the Golden State serial killer and suspects in numerous unsolved sexual assaults and murders in the Lower 48, have been identified over the last year. Alaska State Troopers announced Friday that 44-year-old Steven Downs of Auburn, Maine, a former UAF student, has been charged in the Sergie case.  At a press conference, Trooper Director Colonel Barry Wilson described the technique which connected a genetic sample taken from Sergie’s body to Downs.

”In April 2018, the AST cold case unit learned of a new DNA technology that had been utilized to identify the Golden State killer,” Wilson said. “AST contacted the Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs, a company which utilizes extracted DNA to perform genetic genealogy screening.”

According to a charging document, the genetic sample was cross referenced against profiles in the public genealogy website: GED Match, which includes relatives of Downs.

“To identify the suspect’s DNA sample have remained a mystery for over a quarter century,” Wilson said.

Downs was a Bartlett Hall resident at the time of Sergie’s killing, who has no prior arrest record, and denied at any knowledge of Sergie’s killing at the time of her murder, and again when interviewed by authorities this month. Downs, a registered nurse, was taken into custody without incident, and is being brought to Alaska for trial. Sophie Sergie was from Pitka’s Point and a UAF student. She was taking time off from school in 1993, but back in Fairbanks for a dental appoint and staying with a friend at the UAF dorm, when she was murdered. Sergie’s mother and other members of her family, attended Friday press conference. Public safety officials did not take any questions about the case.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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