Trial for murder of Pitka’s Point woman underway

Steven H. Downs, age 47, is charged in the April 25, 1993, slaying of Sophie Sergie, age 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska and the trial for her murder is now underway in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Sergie had been a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in 1992.

On April 24, 1993, Sergie who was 20 years of age, flew to Fairbanks for a dental appointment and to visit her friends. Even though she wasn’t currently enrolled as a student, she was staying with a friend at Bartlett Hall on the UAF campus. She was there to see the orthodontist.

Sophie was scheduled to fly home to Pitka’s Point following her appointment on April 26. She never made it to her appointment or home. Sophie was last seen alive shortly after midnight when she left the dorm to smoke a cigarette. She was found dead in a bathtub at Bartlett hall at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) that afternoon when a janitor showed up to clean. Initial investigation was determined that Sophie had been sexually assaulted and murdered.

The Cold Case Unit (CCU) submitted the unknown DNA profile from Sophie’s case in July of 2018 to Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company which utilizes extracted DNA to perform the genetic genealogy testing.

Finally, after a little over a quarter of a century, CCU had a likely suspect, identified through the same method that lead to the Golden State Killer, that was alive and living on the opposite end of the country and that was Steven Downs. Semen found in Sergie’s body was a match through a random hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

Armed with the new information, the CCU was able to conduct follow up investigation to determine that Downs (18 at the time of the killing) had been a student at UAF at the time Sophie was killed. Furthermore, Downs lived in Bartlett Hall at UAF.

From there, CCU worked with Maine authorities to bring the case to fruition. Downs was arrested in Auburn, Maine in February 2019 and extradited to Fairbanks.

Downs has maintained his innocence since the beginning. The judge is allowing the defense to present evidence against three other men in an effort to raise reasonable doubt about Downs’ guilt in the murder of Sophie Sergie. The trial is ongoing.