Former Alaska Crime Lab scientist Hayne Hamilton appears Thursday via Zoom in Fairbanks Superior Court in Alaska during the murder trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn, Maine.  Screenshot used with permission from Fairbanks Superior Court

A former Alaska Crime Lab scientist testified Thursday that DNA found inside a slain Alaska woman 29 years ago didn’t match 15 people, including an alternative suspect identified by the defense in the murder and sexual assault case against an Auburn, Maine, man.

Hayne Hamilton had worked at the lab as a forensic serologist at the time Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska, was killed. Her body was found in the bathtub of a second floor bathroom in a University of Alaska at Fairbanks dormitory on April 26, 1993.

The trial of 47-year-old Steven H. Downs, who is charged in the case, is expected to last six weeks.

Hamilton testified as a witness in Fairbanks Superior Court that she had created and examined slides from the crime scene and the autopsy of Sergie that contained bodily fluids that were preserved as evidence.

She said she had seen sperm in three of the many slides she looked at during her analysis 1993. But six years later, she reexamined the slides after a colleague had looked through them.

During her later perusal, Hamilton said she could see sperm on slides where she either hadn’t seen it before or hadn’t looked as closely and hadn’t spent as much time in her examination.


By 1999, a genetic profile had been generated from the DNA found in bodily fluid inside Sergie’s genitals.

That profile was compared to 15 people and none was a match, Hamilton said, including Kenneth Moto.

Moto is one of three alternative suspects Judge Thomas Temple is allowing Downs’ defense team to present evidence against at trial implicating him in the crime.

A female student who was in the bathroom where Sergie’s body was found around the time authorities believe she was killed described to police a man leaving the bathtub area of the bathroom as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with black hair and wearing a gray shirt.

Two days later, when Moto was questioned by police, he was wearing a gray shirt, according to an earlier witness.

Police later visited him for a follow-up interview and took a DNA sample.


Asked by lead defense attorney James Howaniec why Hamilton hadn’t taken more care to examine the slides for sperm during her 1993 analysis, Hamilton said once she found a single sperm on a slide, she moved on to the next. If she didn’t find sperm during a cursory look, she put the slide away knowing it could be reexamined later. With no suspect’s DNA to compare it to, there was no point in further testing, she said.

She said she was looking only for the presence of sperm, using a microscope, which wouldn’t be able to detect DNA, something that is not visible to the naked eye.

The slides were stored in a freezer to preserve the evidence, she said.

“There were people in the Alaska Crime Lab who were surprised that sperm appeared six years later in samples that you analyze, right?” Howaniec asked.

“No, it’s not surprising at all,” Hamilton said. “The fact is that we were concerned at the time in ’93 of preserving samples for future testing and once I found a few sperm, I stopped searching on the slides that were made. When the case was reopene,d as a what they call the cold case, those years later, it was a much more careful, slow process to see what we could find.”

Prosecutors contend semen found in Sergie’s body was later matched in 2018 through a random hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.


Downs was arrested in Auburn, Maine, in February 2019 and extradited to Fairbanks.

He had been a student at the school at the time of the killing and lived one floor above the bathroom where Sergie’s body was found. Investigators said she had been visiting a friend at that dorm and had last been seen going to smoke a cigarette.

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.

Another witness who had been a crime lab worker 1993 testified Thursday that pubic hairs were recovered from the crime scene that came from a Caucasian person, but were never tested for DNA. The worker said a microscopic analysis of those hairs likely couldn’t be matched to pubic hairs from the same person taken today.

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