Maine governor approves extradition of accused UAF cold case killer to Alaska

Sophie Sergie (Photo courtesy of Alaska State Troopers)

The governor of Maine has signed a warrant allowing the extradition of a man accused of a rape and murder 26 years ago in Fairbanks. Forty-four-year-old Steven Harris Downs is charged with the April 1993 sexual assault and killing of Sophie Sergie of Pitka’s Point, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Downs’ attorney James Howaniec says it’s never been in question that his client will have go to Alaska to face the charges.

”The only question was if it was going to happen on a more expedited basis, like it usually is, or if it was going to happen a little further down the road,” Howaniec said.

At the time of Sergie’s murder, Downs was an 18-year-old UAF student who lived at the Bartlett Hall dormitory, where the 20-year-old Sergie was found stabbed and shot to death in a bathroom. The case had been cold until investigators last year cross referenced genetic evidence from the crime with a genealogical data base, to identify Downs as a suspect. Howaniec says Downs, who’s been jailed in Maine since being indicted in February, challenged extradition to buy time to settle his affairs and consider the charges.

”He’s flabbergasted at this charge, and we’re stepping back a little bit to try to assess at least what some of the evidence involved is,” Howaniec said.

Howaniec says Downs can challenge the Maine governor’s warrant, but that even if he does, extradition proceedings will likely conclude next month, with his client being sent to Alaska. The genetic genealogy science used to identify Downs has been employed to ID other murder suspects across the country, including the Golden State Killer in California.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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