More than two decades after 20-year-old Sophie Sergie was found raped, stabbed and shot in the back of the head in the girl’s bathroom of an Alaskan college dormitory, investigators have identified a suspect in the grisly killing.
Using new DNA technology, investigators were able to link the crime to Steven H. Downs, who was just finishing his first year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks when Sergie was found dead, according to the .
Downs, now 44, reportedly lived in the same dormitory were Sergie’s body had been found in a bathtub in April 1993.
He is facing first-degree murder and sexual assault charges. Investigators identified Downs as a suspect after using DNA voluntarily submitted by his aunt, along with traditional genealogical research to compare it to evidence found at the crime scene.
Downs was arrested in Auburn, Maine, where he had been living and once worked as a nurse.
“This arrest is the culmination of years of effort and tenacious attention by this department to solve a horrendous murder, the impact of that murder was felt statewide,” Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said at a to announce the arrest. “The many investigators who have continued to work this case never let the loss of Sophie leave their minds. I am tremendously proud of the dedication and commitment that this team has shown.”
Sergie had reportedly been visiting the campus to have dental work done and was staying with a friend, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The body was discovered in the bathroom of the woman’s restroom about 12 hours after the murder and an autopsy would later reveal she had been stabbed twice in the corner of her right eye while she was alive before being shot in the back of her head and then stabbed again in the face, the Press-Herald reported, citing court documents.
Over the years investigators pursued hundreds of leads and entered DNA found at the crime scene into the FBI’s Combined DNA Identification System, but there were no matches in the system.
“As the months passed troopers continued to diligently investigate the case but months turned into years and active leads became sparse,” Col. Barry Wilson of the Alaska State Troopers said at the press conference.
Investigators would later learn that Downs had been interviewed at the time of the murder, but said he didn’t know anything about the murder. He told investigators he had likely spent the night with girlfriend. His roommate, who worked as a security guard at the time, was also interviewed.
In 2010, after the case had been handed off to cold case detectives, investigators re-interviewed Down’s roommate after they learned he had been fired from his job as a security guard for being in possession of a firearm in the dormitory.
He told investigators during that interview that that he didn’t own a .22-caliber gun but that Downs had owned one that was in the dorm room in 1993, the News-Miner reports.
Investigators decided to employ new DNA technology after being inspired by the April arrest of a suspect, Joseph DeAngelo, in the Golden State Killer homicides and contacted Parabon NanoLabs to assist in Sergie’s case.
Downs was arrested Friday in Auburn, Maine “without incident,” Wilson said.
He is facing extradition to Alaska to appear on the current charges against him.
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