Audio tapes of Maine man played at cold case murder trial

Posted at 1:39 PM, February 3, 2022 and last updated 7:52 PM, July 13, 2023

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Audio recordings of a Maine man speaking to police were played Wednesday for jurors hearing murder and rape charges against him in connection with the death of a 20-year-old student in Alaska in 1993.

Sophie Sergie was found with multiple injuries and a gunshot wound in a bathroom of a dorm at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. It was not until 2018 that police identified Steven H. Downs, 47 of Auburn, Maine, as a potential suspect.

This undated photo provided by the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety shows Sophie Sergie, who was murdered on April 24, 1993 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. (Alaska DPS)

Downs can be heard in the recordings made by Maine police in 2019 denying that he knew Sergie and saying “there has to be a mistake,” the Sun Journal reported.

Downs was identified as a suspect when a relative uploaded a DNA sample to a genealogy website, which was matched with DNA from the crime. Alaska State Trooper Randel McPherron testified that police then learned Downs had lived in the dorm.

In nearly two hours of interviews with police at his home and at the Auburn police station, Downs denied keeping a gun in his room, denied ever going to the floor where Sergie was found and said he was with his girlfriend the night of her death.

Police said his girlfriend at the time told them they had not been together for the whole evening.

Downs was previously granted permission by a Fairbanks Superior Court judge to present evidence against three other possible suspects as part of his defense in the case.

The much-delayed trial started on Jan. 20 and is expected to last six weeks.