Steven Downs appears in the 8th District Court in Lewiston on Wednesday with lawyer James Howaniec. Downs is facing extradition to Alaska to stand trial for a 1993 murder. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

LEWISTON — Gov. Janet Mills has signed a warrant allowing Alaska to return an Auburn man to that state to be tried for the rape and murder of a woman in 1993 in Fairbanks while he was a student.

A judge reviewed the warrant Wednesday in 8th District Court and gave Steven H. Downs, 44, of 132 Hillcrest St. in Auburn a week to decide whether to file a petition challenging the governor’s warrant.

Downs has been held without bail at Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn since his February arrest on murder and first-degree sexual assault charges brought by an Alaska grand jury.

Defense attorney James Howaniec told Judge Mary Kelly on Wednesday his client is likely to waive his right to fight extradition but is expected to take the next week to mull his options.

Kelly set a May court date for a hearing on Downs’ extradition, should he opt to challenge the warrant.

Mills signed a warrant in response to a request by Alaska’s lieutenant governor that Downs be sent back there to face the felony charges.


If Downs were to waive extradition, Alaska authorities would be given 30 days to retrieve him.

Attorneys James Howaniac and Jesse James Ian Archer have been retained to represent Steven Downs in Alaska on a murder charge. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Sophie Sergie, 20, was visiting a friend at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in April 1993 when her body was found in a bathroom on the second floor of a dorm. She had been shot in the back of the head and stabbed in both eyes, one while she was alive and the other after she was dead, according to court papers.

Downs was a student at the school, living on the third floor of the dorm. He told investigators he had been with his girlfriend at the time of the crime.

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

The lawyer said his client is a pet-loving and caring nurse who had always been mild-mannered. His parents, both teachers, live locally.

The case went cold for decades until DNA evidence from genealogical database helped police link Downs to the crime through an aunt.


On Feb. 15, police searched Downs’ home on Hillcrest Street, 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 Downs, tracked through a relative, was the likely killer.

Howaniec has said his client maintains his innocence.

Downs’ parents have hired Howaniec, who practices criminal defense locally, and local lawyer Jesse Archer to represent their son in Maine and Alaska.

Howaniec, who has teamed up with a Fairbanks lawyer, said he plans to travel to Alaska for Downs’ initial appearance on the felony charges, likely before the end of May.


“Obviously, we expect substantial resources to be thrown at this case by the state of Alaska,” Howaniec said, adding much of his focus early on will be to comb through physical evidence, including DNA, autopsy results and ballistics.

“We’re anticipating a complicated case here,” Howaniec said.

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