Steven H. Downs, 44, of Auburn, right, stands for his initial appearance Tuesday in 8th District Court in Lewiston. Downs has been charged with the 1993 rape and murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Standing with Downs is lawyer Richard Charest. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

LEWISTON —  Steven H. Downs, the 44-year-old Auburn man charged with raping and killing a woman in 1993 in Fairbanks, Alaska, is fighting extradition to that state, telling a judge Tuesday through a lawyer he thinks “there must be some mistake.”

Eight District Court Judge John Martin ordered Downs of 132 Hillcrest St. in Auburn held without bail on a charge of fugitive from justice in connection with the Alaska first-degree murder and sexual assault charges.

Downs was arrested Friday in Auburn on a warrant from Alaska.

Downs is charged with the killing of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie in April 1993 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Downs was reportedly a student there from 1992 to 1996.

Police in Alaska said DNA evidence from a genealogical database helped link Downs to the crime. On Friday, police searched the Auburn home of Downs, a registered nurse, where they obtained a DNA sample.

Downs told detectives he had been at the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the time of Sergie’s killing, according to Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis, who asked that Downs be held without bail because he could be a flight risk, having lived outside the state.


Defense lawyer Richard Charest, who represented Downs during his initial court appearance, told Martin that Downs is a lifelong Maine resident and 1992 graduate of Edward Little High School in Auburn, owns his own house and his parents live locally. Charest was seeking to have bail set at $5,000 cash.

Alaska does not have a life sentence, but allows for sentencing up to a period of 99 years, Martin said.

A hearing was set for March 18, when Downs is expected to return to court on the charge of being a fugitive from justice.

Martin appointed Lewiston lawyer James Howaniec as Downs’ attorney. Downs said he earned $50,000 last year, but is now unemployed.

Downs was arrested Friday by the Maine State Police Tactical Team in the parking lot of the Fireside Inn in Auburn.

Police said that on April 26, 1993, custodial workers at the UAF campus discovered Sophie Sergie’s body in a women’s bathroom in Bartlett Hall, a dormitory in which Downs lived. Sergie, a resident of Pitkas Point and previously a student at UAF, was in town on personal business and visiting friends on campus.


According to a criminal complaint, Sergie had been sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times and shot in the back of the head, before her body was placed in a bathtub.

An investigation was launched by the UAF campus police, but was soon taken over by Alaska State troopers. Suspect DNA was recovered during the investigation and a unique suspect profile was identified from the DNA. The information was uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

Police said investigators learned last year of new DNA technologies that might help lead them to the killer. More testing was done and, police said, results revealed the likely suspect was Downs, whom they tracked to Auburn.

Police from Alaska came to Auburn early last week, according to Maine Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland. They worked with the Auburn Police Department and Maine State Police before Downs was arrested outside the Washington Street hotel.

Downs is being held at Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn pending his March court hearing.

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