A criminalist who processed the scene where a native Alaska woman was slain in 1993 described photos he and a colleague took of the victim as jurors looked on Thursday in the murder and sexual assault trial of an Auburn, Maine man.

Steven H. Downs, left, sits Thursday in Fairbanks Superior Court during the fourth day of his trial on charges of murder and sexual assault in the death of Sophie Sergie, 20, in Fairbanks in 1993. His attorney, James Howaniec of Lewiston, is at top left. Screenshot used by permission of Fairbanks Superior Court

James Wolfe testified in Fairbanks Superior Court that he was summoned to Bartlett Hall at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks on April 26, 1993, to collect evidence from the bathtub area of the dormitory’s second floor bathroom where the body of a former student had been found early that afternoon.

Steven H. Downs, 47, is charged in the killing of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska. He has denied the charges.

Downs was a student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks at the time and lived 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.

Investigators said Sergie was last seen alive when she left a friend’s dorm room to smoke a cigarette.

They 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 was the bullet fired into her head.

Wolfe said Thursday that he arrived at the scene about 8:30 p.m.; investigators believe Sergie was killed about 1:30 a.m. that day.

He said he and another forensic technician combed the bathroom for any signs of evidence that should be collected.

Wolfe described the victim’s position in a bathtub and detailed her injuries and other evidence captured in dozens of photographs.

He said no shoe prints were found, but several fingerprints were collected, as well as hairs.

A retired criminalist with the Alaska Crime Lab testifies Thursday in Fairbanks at the trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn, Maine, in Fairbanks Superior Court. Screenshot used by permission of the Fairbanks Superior Court

A stain on Sergie’s left thigh or hip was detected and swabbed for a sample that would be brought to the Alaska Crime Lab in Anchorage to be examined further, Wolfe said.


Ultraviolet light was used to search for any semen evidence at the crime scene and the chemical luminol was sprayed on surfaces to reveal the presence of blood that was not visible to the unaided eye, he said.

Wolfe described a photo showing blood on the victim’s face.

“We saw she had blood caked on this side of her face,” he said. “It looked almost like part of it had been diluted with water or water washed it because when you look at the sides of the stain, they kind of fade off there’s not a hard margin to the stain.”

His testimony suggested an effort might have been made to clean up the crime scene.

“It just seemed very clean for a crime scene where blood was shed,” he said.

The sweater Sergie was wearing was wet, he said.


A pair of glasses were lying with her hands, but not clutched in them, he said. And the glasses had not been not damaged.

Other testimony Thursday included a custodian who had gone into the bathtub area that day to clean and discovered Sergie’s body.

“I was screaming,” Okcha Ancheta said. She quit her job shortly after the incident, she said.

A fire battalion chief testified he was dispatched to the scene and saw Sergie in the bathtub in a sitting position with her head forward, her knees up and her sweatpants and underwear pulled down to her knees.

He said she wasn’t moving or breathing and didn’t have a pulse.

Downs was arrested in February 2019 after his DNA was matched in late 2018 to evidence found at the crime scene through a random hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website. His DNA was found inside the victim, investigators said.

Thursday marked the fourth day of Downs’ trial. It is scheduled to last six weeks.

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