An Auburn man charged with raping and brutally killing an Alaskan native in 1993 can be heard repeatedly denying those charges in a recorded interview with Alaska State Police troopers shortly before he was arrested decades later.

Steven Downs appears in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in March 2019 for an extradition hearing. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Steven H. Downs, 46, appeared in court Monday in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he is facing two felony counts in the cold case stemming from his time as a student at the state university in that city.

Assistant Attorney General Jenna Gruenstein played in the courtroom a recording of an interview with Downs conducted by Alaska State Trooper Randel McPherron and a sergeant at the Auburn Police Department on Feb. 14, 2019.

McPherron, who took the witness stand Monday, can be heard in the interview shortly after meeting Downs at his home telling Downs he was a suspect in the slaying of Sophie Sergie, 20, who was a 20-year-old resident of Pitkas Point, Alaska.

Police said she had been staying with a friend in a residence dormitory on the school campus where Downs lived when she was killed.

She had been seen late in the evening of April 25, 1993, when she’d left a friend’s dorm room to smoke a cigarette. Custodial staff found her body in a woman’s bathroom the next afternoon.

Investigators said Sergie had been shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber gun, stabbed in both eyes, struck with a blunt instrument, gagged with a ligature and shocked with a stun gun.

Lewiston defense attorney, James Howaniec, who’s representing Downs, is seeking to have a judge throw out evidence from McPherron’s interview with Downs, as well as a gun found in a search of his home and his DNA from his saliva that was collected by police.

When McPherron confronted Downs with the accusation that he is the primary suspect in Sergie’s murder because of evidence found at the crime scene, Downs sounded startled.

“We have a very strong reason to believe that you’re responsible for this,” McPherron told Downs.

“Wow!” Downs exclaimed. “That’s kind of intense.”

Downs drove to Auburn Police Department offices at City Hall, where an officer swabbed his cheeks for DNA collection and fingerprinted him.

Afterward, police recited the Miranda rights to Downs before questioning him for about an hour-and-a-half.

During that questioning, McPherron repeatedly told Downs he was certain Downs had committed the crimes against Sergie.

He told Downs semen was found in the victim’s vagina that was traced to Downs through a genetic mark on his mother’s side of his family.

“It came down to you,” McPherron said. “You’re the source of the DNA.”

Down’s repeatedly denied the assertion.

“There’s no way that could be possible,” he said. “There’s gotta be some mix-up.”

Downs told the officers: “I never hurt anyone in my life.”

He said there must have been a mistake and that he’s “always tried to do the right thing.”

Downs said in the interview that he had been with his girlfriend that night.

But McPherron said he talked to Downs’ girlfriend who, he testified Monday, told police that she’d had a party in her dorm room (one floor above his) that night and that Downs had attended that party “intermittently.”

Downs also denied during the interview that he’d owned a gun at the time of Sergie’s killing.

McPherron said several students at the school, including Downs’ roommate at the time, told police Downs had owned a .22-caliber revolver that is believed to be the type of gun used to shoot Sergie.

During a search of Downs’ home the same day as his police interview, police found a gun matching that description.

Downs told McPherron he had purchased that gun recently from a private owner in Turner.

Howaniec filed a motion to have the DNA collection, the gun found in the search and statements made by Downs to police on that day not be allowed at trial.

McPherron told the judge that the cold case unit in Alaska shut down in 2015 for lack of funding, but was reactivated in 2017. He said the case had been dormant with no real leads for awhile.

In 2000, a DNA profile had been built from evidence from the crime scene. That profile had been loaded into the national DNA database of offenders with no matches.

Police had submitted the crime scene DNA from Sergie’s killing in September 2018 for a new technique of analysis that had helped solve a double murder cold case in Washington state.

In December of that year, Downs’ name came back from the analysis, McPherron said.

After police learned his name, McPherron said police went about investigating Downs to see whether his profile fit with the crime.

They learned he was living in the dorm at the time of the crime, one floor above where Sergie’s body was found. And they tracked his movements since 1993 to his home in Auburn.

Hoping to get a sample of Downs’ DNA without his knowledge, he was put under surveillance for weeks. Police even sifted through his garbage, but came up empty.

Police eventually got a warrant to seize his DNA, McPherron said.

Hearings on nine motions filed by the defense are expected to last all week, the judge said. The hearings had been scheduled to start in April 2020, but were postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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