He recently pointed out the benefit of the networking he experienced in a 26-year old homicide case that culminated in an arrest of the suspect in Auburn, Maine. Although his contact with fellow Session #252 classmate Deputy Chief Jason Moen, himself recently promoted to Chief of Police of the Auburn Police Department, was not the cause of solving this homicide, it did contribute to smooth communications and extradition of the suspect. Deputy Commissioner Duxbury was adamant not to take away from the excellent police work conducted by members of his department, of Chief Moen’s, of the Maine State Police Unsolved Homicide Unit and Evidence Response Team, and of the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory, but to stress that the National Academy has shrunk the sphere in which law enforcement works effectively.
In the interest of sharing the excellent investigation of such a horrific crime the following is the press release given by Alaska State Trooper Colonel Barry Wilson (Session #244):
On April 26, 1993, custodial workers at the UAF campus discovered Sophie Sergie’s body in a women’s bathroom of the Bartlett Hall Dormitory. Sophie, a resident of Pitkas Point and previous student at UAF, was in town on personal business and visiting friends on campus.
An investigation was launched by the UAF Campus Police, but was soon taken over by the Alaska State Troopers. Evidence at the scene revealed Sophie had been sexually assaulted and murdered. Suspect DNA was recovered during the investigation and a unique suspect profile was identified from the DNA; the information was uploaded into “CODIS” – A national Combined DNA Index System. CODIS, which is run by the FBI, generates investigative leads in cases where biological evidence is recovered from a crime scene. Matches made among profiles in the Forensic Index can link crime scenes together and provide investigators with the identity of suspected perpetrators. However, the DNA profile obtained in this case was not on file, and therefore the suspect remained unknown and at large.
Over the course of several months, law enforcement conducted hundreds of interviews on the UAF campus, and throughout the Fairbanks area. Dozens of leads were developed, and DNA samples were collected from many individuals in an attempt to identify the suspect - those efforts failed to identify a matching DNA profile.
As the months passed, Troopers continued to diligently investigate the case. But as months turned into years, active leads became sparse. In 2002, the Alaska State Troopers established a Cold Case Unit; the unit acquired Sophie’s case. As time passed, several members of the Cold Case Unit would pour through the report to determine if the new leads were available to investigate or if there was some other angle or new technology to work the case. For more than 20 years, AST continued to receive information about Sophie’s murder, each Tip generating a dedicated response by the members of the Cold Case Unit hoping to break the case.
Finally…in April of 2018, the AST Cold Case Unit learned of a new DNA technology that was utilized to identify the Golden State Killer. AST contacted the Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs, a company which utilizes extracted DNA to perform genetic genealogy screening. Genetic Genealogy is the combination of genetic analysis with traditional historical and genealogical research to study family history. For forensic investigations such as the case involving Sophie’s killer, the process can be used to point to the likely identity of a perpetrator. Over the next several months, the AST Cold Case Unit collaborated with Parabon to identify the suspect’s DNA sample that had remained a mystery for over a quarter century. Results of the testing revealed the likely suspect to be Steven H. Downs, who was alive and residing in Auburn, Maine. Armed with this new information, the AST Cold Case Unit reached out to the authorities in Maine for assistance. Over the course of several weeks, a plan was developed to contact and interview Downs, collect DNA and other evidence, and search his residence for evidence of the crimes.
Steven Downs was taken into custody without incident on February 15th in Auburn Maine. He will return to Alaska where he will be tried for the murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie. Grand jury will be held upon his return to Alaska.
Special recognition goes out to the Auburn (ME) Police Department, the Maine State Police Unsolved Homicide Unit and Evidence Response Team, and the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory for their assistance in this investigation.
During the last 25 years, dozens of Alaska State Troopers faithfully dedicated thousands of hours to this investigation. Through their dogged persistence, advances in technology, and the spirit of cooperation exhibited by each agency that touched this case; justice for Sophie is finally within reach. As the Director of this agency, and as a member of the investigative team that originally worked on this case, I am both honored and humbled to help bring some closure to Sophie’s family.