Two former Alaska state troopers testified in court Friday that their investigation into the murder and sexual assault of a native Alaska woman on the University of Alaska at Fairbanks campus 29 years ago was hindered by a mass exodus of students during final exams week.

Steven H. Downs, 47, of Auburn, is charged in the case; he has denied the charges.

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

Timothy Hunyor, now retired, said in Fairbanks Superior Court that he had been instructed to try to identify the victim who had been found about an hour earlier on the afternoon of April 26, 1993, in the bathtub room of the women’s bathroom on the second floor of Bartlett Hall.

He started knocking on doors on that floor and spoke with Shirley Wasuli, a student the victim had been visiting. Wasuli told Hunyor she hadn’t been able to locate her friend since the night before.

Wasuli handed Hunyor the driver’s license of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, who had been a student there, but was taking a year off.

Hunyor carried Sergie’s ID to the crime scene and compared the photo on the license to the victim.


“It was a match to Sophie,” he testified Friday.

But Hunyor said he struggled to find people to talk to who might have seen or heard anything or have information that might help with the criminal investigation.

“A lot of the problems we had were that a lot of the people weren’t in the dorms. They weren’t there anymore,” he said. “We just had a really difficult time trying to contact people.”

Lantz Dahlke, who also took the witness stand Friday, said he remembered being sick at home when he was called to the crime scene that day.

Dahlke was assigned to canvas the area for potential witnesses and gather leads, he said.

He started on the second floor of Bartlett Hall, using a roster of students and their room assignments, but became frustrated when knocking on doors and finding either no one there or people there who weren’t assigned to those rooms.


“It was finals week and all the students that were up there that were not seniors and graduating were leaving as soon as they were done with their finals because they could go home,” he said. “And so we had a lot of people leaving the campus all during that same time frame contemporaneous to when this incident happened.”

Dahlke said: “I thought that for sure we would find people that saw that activity, considering this is a college campus,” he said. “People are up all day, all night. And there’s a lot of people out and about. But, as I said, we had a lot of people leaving the campus. And so potentially we were losing witnesses every day.”

No substantial leads were developed at that time, he and Hunyor said.

Then, less than a month later, their three-man unit (plus a patrol trooper) was called to investigate the murder of a political figure.

Dahlke said he, Hunyor and their sergeant were the only major crimes investigators assigned by the Alaska State Police to the greater Fairbanks area.

Asked by a defense attorney whether he believed his investigative unit had been stretched thin at that time, Dahlke said: “Sir, I think we’ve probably been thin my entire career,” which dates to the mid-1980s.


Downs, who had been a first-year student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks at the time Sergie was killed, lived on the third floor in the dorm where her body was found. He is charged with murder and sexual assault.

Downs’ arrest came in Feb. 2019, months after his DNA that was found in Sergie was matched to evidence found at the crime scene through a random hit after Downs’ aunt had submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

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 was the bullet fired into her head.

Police said Sergie had been last seen alive when she left a friend’s dorm room to smoke a cigarette. Custodial staff found her body in a women’s bathroom on the second floor the next afternoon.

Dahlke, a firearms expert, said he conducted experiments with simulating the sound a .22 caliber gun might make in that area of the bathroom and seeing how audible it would be.


He tried dropping a stack of books on the floor of the tub area.

“I had people out in the bathroom and also out in the hallway, is my recollection” he said. “And they didn’t even know I did it.”

Both witnesses said their investigation into Sergie’s slaying continued, even as their unit was called out to other crime scenes.

All tips and leads were followed up on, they said.

Five days after the start of the trial, nearly 20 witnesses have been called by prosecutors.

The trial is expected to last about six weeks.

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