A student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 1993 said Wednesday she had been washing her hands in the woman’s dormitory bathroom when a man walked out of the shower and tub area about the same time authorities believe a former student had been raped and killed there.

Melanie Sagoonick testified in Fairbanks Superior Court that she was surprised a man had been in the women’s bathroom.

She had years ago described to investigators the man she had seen as having a dark complexion, short black hair and roughly 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

She had been shown a group of six photographs by police in 2004 and asked if any of the men pictured was the man she had seen leaving the bathroom 11 years earlier.

Prosecutors show a photograph Jan. 12 of Sophie Sergie during the murder trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn, Maine, in Fairbanks Superior Court. Downs is charged with killing and sexually assaulting Sergie in 1993. Screenshot used by permission of Fairbanks Superior Court

Sagoonick had been able to eliminate four of the six and narrowed in on two of the men as having characteristics consistent with the man she saw leaving the bathroom.

But she hadn’t positively identified any of the men pictured as the man she had seen in the bathroom early on that Monday morning of April 26, 1993.


Steven H. Downs, 47, of Auburn, Maine, is charged with murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska, whose body was found in the woman’s bathroom tub area that afternoon.

Downs had been a student at the school at the time and lived upstairs in the dorm where Sergie’s body was found. Investigators said she had been visiting a friend at that dorm when her body was discovered.

Her friend said Sergie had planned to smoke a cigarette in the tub area of the women’s bathroom and never saw her again.

Investigators said Sergie was 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 death as the bullet fired into her head.

Sagoonick said Wednesday that she had been in her dorm room, which was across the hall from the bathroom entrance.


A floor plan of a University of Alaska at Fairbanks bathroom shows the tub room where an Alaskan woman’s slain body was found in 1993. Screenshot used with permission from Fairbanks Superior Court

She had earlier filled a pitcher with water from a drinking fountain around midnight. After returning to her room, she had opened her door to wipe down its outer surface when she heard a loud sound like the lid of a metal garbage can striking concrete, only without the after echo.

She said the noise had come from the direction of the bathroom across the hall, but it was “a little muffled.”

Roughly 45 minutes later, Sagoonick said she had gone into the bathroom to use the toilet and was washing her hands afterward when a man walked out through the door from the shower and tub area and left the bathroom.

“He was in a little bit of a rush and didn’t look towards me,” Sagoonick said.

She said he wore a gray, collared shirt with a paisley print. His build was average, she told investigators.

Sagoonick testified Wednesday the man was not white Caucasian, but not a native Alaskan.


Chief Assistant Attorney General Jenna Gruenstein asked Sagoonick whether she remembered telling police the man was darker skinned or tanned. Sagoonick said she did.

“Is that your recollection now?’ Gruenstein asked.

“No,” Sagoonick answered.

She explained that she had been only 19 years old and from a small village at the time.

Sagoonick told Gruenstein on Wednesday that the man’s hair had been dark brown and was cut short, above the ear, but not a military cut.

She said he was roughly her age. She said she watched him walk down the hallway after leaving the bathroom.


Sagoonick said she had never seen the man before or since and hadn’t recognized him as anyone she had known.

Under cross examination by Downs’ attorney, James Howaniec, Sagoonick said she had told a state trooper in 2008 that the man in the bathroom had been about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, but that had only been an estimate. She had been leaning over the sink and was near the far end of the bathroom when he was at the door.

She explained her answer to police earlier about describing the man’s complexion as “dark skinned” by saying to Howaniec: “You know, I didn’t get to broaden my horizons or you know, go to many places, so I did the best I could.”

Sagoonick said the shirt the man was wearing was “not a white T-shirt.”

A witness testified Tuesday that she had made eye contact with Downs in the stairwell of the dorm shortly before the time Sergie is believed to have been killed and that he had been wearing a white T-shirt.

During opening statements at the trial last week, Howaniec had described Downs as 6 feet, 2 inches tall, with blondish-brown hair and a light complexion.


Another student at the school in 1993 testified Wednesday she had been in a shower stall that shared a common wall with the tub area around the time investigators believe Sergie was killed.

Jennifer Roy said she heard someone enter the tub area. She said she heard a “loud thud” on the other side of the wall that “startled” her. She then heard murmuring sounds with two different tones.

“I knew somebody, more than one person, had entered that bathtub room,” she said. “It just sounded kind of rough.”

The people didn’t leave, Roy said.

“They were clearly waiting for me to get out,” she said.

Later that day, Roy said she was entering the dorm floor when a janitor was running out of the bathroom, “really upset.”

Roy couldn’t understand what the woman was saying, but she pulled Roy into the bathroom and Roy saw Sergie’s body in the bathtub.

“I was in shock,” she said. “I knew she was dead.”

Downs’ arrest occurred after his DNA was matched in 2018 to evidence found at the crime scene through a random hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website. He was arrested in 2019 and extradited to Alaska to stand trial.

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