Steven Downs, right, leaves the courtroom with his attorney, James Howaniec after bail was denied in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn on Wednesday. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

AUBURN — A judge denied bail Wednesday for a local man charged with raping and killing a woman in 1993 in Fairbanks, Alaska, while he was a student there.

Steven H. Downs, 44, “adamantly denies any involvement in this heinous crime,” his lawyer said.

Defense attorney James Howaniec told an Androscoggin County Superior Court judge that Downs should be allowed bail pending his extradition to Alaska to face the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison.

Howaniec said Downs knows little about the evidence underlying the charges against him. He did not receive an indictment detailing the charges from Alaska until Friday, Howaniec said.

Downs had been with his girlfriend and was not “in the vicinity of the crime scene” on the night of the homicide, Howaniec said.

Downs has “no criminal history to speak of,” Howaniec said, “and no evidence whatsoever of any sort of history of violence.”


The lawyer painted a portrait of his client as a pet-loving and caring nurse who has always been mild-mannered. His parents, both teachers, live locally.

The gruesome “rage crime” that was committed against 20-year-old Sophie Sergie, who was visiting a friend at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in April 1993, was “just completely alien to anything we have seen in (Downs’) individual’s background,” Howaniec said.

Justice Robert Clifford denies bail Wednesday morning to Steven Downs in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Sergie was shot in the back of the head and stabbed in both eyes, one while alive and the other after she was dead, Howaniec said.

He said the lack of incriminating evidence shared with his client so far “raises serious concerns about the integrity of this investigation and the provability of the case.”

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Reynolds Regan argued Downs was not entitled to bail, and that the judge should use his discretion to hold the local man until his return to Alaska on a governor’s warrant. She said normal bail laws did not apply because Downs was being held on a warrant from out of state as a fugitive from justice, and that Downs’ guilt or innocence should not play a role in the judge’s bail decision.

Police in Alaska said DNA evidence from a genealogical database helped link Downs to the crime. On Feb. 15, police searched Downs’ 132 Hillcrest St. home, where they obtained a DNA sample.


Downs’ DNA was uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System known as 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, tracked through a relative, was Downs.

Steven Downs appears at his extradition hearing Wednesday morning in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn . (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Howaniec said Wednesday his client has learned nothing about the protocols involved in collecting the DNA from that relative — Downs’ aunt — through, which led to the alleged connection between Downs and the murder 26 years after the crime was committed.

Howaniec said his client also knows nothing about how the evidence was collected at the crime scene.

“Nothing in the affidavits that we’ve got indicates any sort of other forensic evidence that connects Mr. Downs to this crime,” Howaniec said. “No fingerprint evidence, no other type of evidence.”

After Wednesday’s hearing, Howaniec said his client “has some concerns about whether a perpetrator from the nearby military base was somehow involved” in the crime.

Justice Robert Clifford said he denied bail because the underlying charges against Downs are so serious. Clifford said, however, it was unusual for Downs to be jailed for more than 30 days pending extradition. The judge said the lieutenant governor of Alaska has issued an extradition warrant, but it had not yet arrived at the court.

When it arrives, Clifford said, Downs could revive his petition challenging the warrant. But the facts of Alaska’s criminal case against Downs will not be considered in a Maine court.

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Steven Downs, left, talks Wednesday morning with his lawyer, James Howaniec, in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn during Downs’ bail hearing. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

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