Steven Downs, left, appears in the 8th District Court in Lewiston in 2019 with lawyer James Howaniec. Downs was facing extradition to Alaska to stand trial for a 1993 murder. Sun Journal file photo Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

A supervisor at the Alaska Crime Lab testified Wednesday that in 1993, when a native Alaskan woman was raped and murdered, crime scene investigators may not have worn gloves, wouldn’t have worn masks, and cigarette smoking was routine during autopsies.

“So you want to protect talking over the evidence, touching the evidence without gloves on, because that will transfer low amounts of DNA,” Jennifer Foster said during a videoconference hearing.

Auburn resident Steven H. Downs, 46, is charged with sexual assault and murder in the April 25, 1993, slaying of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska. He was arrested in Auburn in February 2019.

She had last been seen late that evening when she left a friend’s dorm room at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to smoke a cigarette, police said. 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 the cheek and eye, struck with a blunt instrument, gagged with a ligature and shocked with a stun gun.

The medical examiner concluded the cause of Sergie’s death was the bullet fired into her head.


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.

Investigators learned in 2018 of new DNA technologies that might help lead them to the killer. A family relative of Downs had submitted her DNA to a genealogical tracing website that was used by law enforcement. Results revealed the likely suspect was Downs, whom Alaska police tracked to Auburn.

Pretrial hearings resumed in his case this week from February in Fairbanks, Alaska Superior Court.

Lewiston defense attorney James Howaniec continued Wednesday to argue in favor of his motion to dismiss the murder and rape indictment against Downs.

Prosecutors said semen found in Sergie’s body was identified through DNA analysis to belong to Downs.

Because the case dates back more than two decades, the original lab analysis was performed by former crime lab employees, Foster said. She reviewed their files and testified before the grand jury that handed up Downs’ indictment.


She testified Wednesday in an effort to interpret the reports and notes of her predecessors at the lab, often admitting she could only speculate what they intended.

She said that DNA analysis has improved since 1993 when larger samples were needed for testing and those tests yielded less accurate results.

Howaniec had Foster examine several documents she had turned over to prosecutors in the case and quizzed her about their accuracy.

Foster said in several cases she believed there were errors or typos in the crime lab findings.

“Are you aware of any other errors that were committed in the DNA in this murder investigation?” Howaniec pressed her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “To me, that’s a typo. I’m sure there were other typos that can be found.”


Some samples of evidence collected from the crime scene that were tested in 1993 were found to be devoid of sperm.

But later testing revealed the same samples contained sperm. Howaniec asked Foster how that could be.

She explained that better testing technology made that possible.

She also said the early testing “wasn’t as thorough” as it could have been.

The hearing is expected to continue Thursday with testimony from CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist who has appeared often on television, including on a network series called “The Genetic Detective.”

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