Steven H. Downs of Auburn, Maine, foreground, listens  Wednesday during his trial in Fairbanks Superior Court in Alaska. He is charged with the murder and rape of an Alaska woman in 1993. Screenshot used with permission by Fairbanks Superior Court

Editor’s note: The following report contains graphic medical information some readers may find disturbing.

The doctor who performed the autopsy on a native Alaskan woman 29 years ago did not note any evidence of sexual assault in his report, according to testimony Wednesday in Fairbanks Superior Court.

Steven H. Downs, 47, of Auburn, Maine, is charged with murder and sexual assault in the April 26, 1993 death of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska. He has denied the charges.

Downs had been 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 in a bathtub in a women’s bathroom.

During the eighth day of testimony, retired forensic pathologist Dr. Norman Thompson said he was asked by an Alaska State Police investigator to review the report of the doctor who performed the autopsy on Sergie’s body two days after she was killed.

“He did not make a statement that a sexual assault had occurred,” Thompson said of that doctor’s findings. “He does not cite sexual assault in the final diagnosis.”


Thompson confirmed there was no evidence of internal or external trauma to Sergie’s genital area, but he added that didn’t mean it’s proof she hadn’t been sexually assaulted.

“As I’m saying this, the absence of injury simply means there’s no evidence of injury,” he said. “I can’t take the next step and say that means there’s no evidence of sexual assault.”

Conversely, he said, “Obviously, if there are injuries to the genitals, it is difficult to argue that some force was not applied to the genitals. But in general, it’s been well known for decades, at least since I did my training and considerably before that, that an individual who has been well documented to sustain a sexual assault may not have any injuries that are visible on the autopsy or in the hospital examination.”

Thompson said that in cases where sexual assault is alleged, “maybe only 20% of people will have genital injury.”

He also agreed with a defense attorney that live sperm can survive inside a deceased body for “a considerable time.”

In addition to reviewing the autopsy report of the doctor who performed that procedure, Thompson said he examined roughly 150 photographs of the crime scene and of Sergie’s body.


He said tests revealed Sergie had no alcohol or illegal drugs in her system when she died.

Thompson said he noted superficial injuries that could have been caused by the tip of a knife on Sergie’s hips and below her navel.

He said she had sustained two “gaping” cuts on her face, one on her right cheek between her mouth and ear and one at the corner of her eye.

She had been shot in the lower back of the right side of her head where the tip of the barrel of the gun had been pressed against her skin.

The small-caliber bullet followed a trajectory that exited her skull above her left eye, but stopped under the skin, suggesting her head may have been pressed against a hard surface, such as the bathtub, tile wall or tile floor, at the time.

The cause of death was the gunshot wound, Thompson said.


“I would expect death to have occurred within minutes,” he said.

Asked whether a stun gun may have been used to subdue Sergie, Thompson said her small stature of 5 feet, 111 pounds suggested it wouldn’t have been necessary for an adult to have been able to control her physically.

“I have no evidence to suggest a stun gun was used in this case,” he said.

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

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 in February 2019 and extradited to Fairbanks.

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