Old college friends of Steven Downs take the stand in Sophie Sergie murder trial

A screenshot of a trial held by Zoom.
Obtained with special permission of the court, this screenshot shows images projected to the jury. This photo of Sophie Sergie was taken on Murphy Dome the night she died. (Alaska Court System)

The cold-case Sophie Sergie murder trial may wrap up this week. 

Steven Downs, now 47, is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault in the case that goes back 29 years. 

Old college friends of the defendant from the University of Alaska Fairbanks testified in court Monday that they never thought he was a dangerous person capable of hurting anyone. 

Among those who testified was Oliver Emerick Althoen who lived down the hall from Downs during the 1992-93 school year. Downs, from Maine, was 18 years old then.

“We would party together. We’d drink alcohol. Wwe would play music — we’d play, you know, I’m a guitar player and we all sort of played music together, you know, rock and roll,” said Althoen. “I think it was a pretty standard dorm life.”

At the end of that school year, Sergie was found shot to death in the women’s bathroom in Bartlett Hall, one floor below where Downs lived. She had also been stabbed. Attorneys questioning Althoen asked if he thought Downs was dangerous.

“No, he was a friend. We had good times together,” he said. “I never saw him do anything violent.”

RELATED: Suspect’s college girlfriend and lead trooper investigator testify in Sophie Sergie murder trial

Althoen testified that Downs had a pump action shotgun and a .22 caliber pistol they went grouse hunting with, maybe half-dozen times, but could not remember which year.

“It’s hard to remember exactly the timeline. I know I did shoot guns with Steve,” he said. “But after I lived there for a year, I came home to California for a year. And then I moved back up to Alaska in the summer of ‘94. And in that second year, we all were all living off campus and we would go shooting sometime.”

“And I actually don’t remember if we ever went shooting when we lived in the dorms,” he said. “I think maybe we didn’t because we were just busy with school and stuff.”

Another old friend, Bleu Moon Roesbery, grew up near Cordova, and came to UAF in 1992. She dated Downs briefly that fall.

“We hung out quite a bit, maybe three or four times a week. I wanted a relationship, but he just wanted to be friends,” Roesbery said. 

Roesbery liked photography in college and remembered that she had taken a picture of Downs when they were friends, holding a knife she had seen sometimes on his desk in his dorm room.

“It was a fairly large, fixed-blade hunting knife. And the only reason I remember it was because of the photo I took,” she said.

She testified that she didn’t find the knife that unusual, because in her experience, they were commonplace.

“You know, growing up in the wilderness of Alaska, knives and guns really didn’t make an impression on me cause everyone that I grew up with had them,” she said. “Just a tool.”

The prosecution may wrap up its case Wednesday, including playing recordings of interviews with the defendant. A key witness may not be able to appear this week because of the need to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure, and prosecutors are making arrangements.

Defense attorneys say their case has mostly been made through cross-examination but will call five or six witnesses.

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