Attorneys for an Auburn man are seeking to exclude evidence in the 1993 rape and murder trial of an Alaska woman, citing misinformation in police affidavits.
Prosecutors allege that Steven H. Downs, 46, raped and killed Sophie Sergie, 20, in April 1993 at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where prosecutors say Downs attended school from 1993 to 1996. He was arrested in Auburn on Feb. 15, 2019.
Sergie, a student who left the university to save money, was visiting a friend there when her body was found in a dormitory bathtub. She had been shot with a .22-caliber gun, stabbed, beaten, gagged and shocked with a stun gun, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.
In the second day of hearings, Downs’ attorney James Howaniec said the search warrants for Downs’ home and DNA were based on “faulty affidavits” made by Alaska state trooper and lead detective Randel McPherron, the Sun Journal reported.
During testimony, McPherron admitted that when preparing the affidavits, he didn’t read every transcript from interviews with witnesses and relied on summaries from investigators.
In one case, the lead detective wrote in the affidavit that a student who lived on the same floor as Downs at the university said Downs and his roommate had guns. In actuality, the student said only the roommate did.
“It was an error on my part,” McPherron said. “I just remembered it incorrectly. I thought he’d mentioned both men had guns in their room,” the Sun Journal reported.
In 2009, Downs’ girlfriend, Katherine deSchweinitz, was interviewed by a police investigator about the murder and said Downs didn’t have a gun while he was at school, but while they were dating, he was “into weapons,” according to the Sun Journal.
McPherron wrote in the affidavit, however, that deSchweinitz said she didn’t know whether he had a gun.
Howaniec said no physical evidence from the crime scene, including fingerprints taken at the same time as his DNA, have linked Downs to the crime.
Police did not reportedly match the DNA — in semen found at the crime scene — to Downs until February 2019, after a forensic genealogist discovered similarities to Downs’ aunt’s, which had been collected in a public database used to research family heritage, according to the Washington Post.
Howaniec said this information doesn’t prove that he killed or raped her, the Sun Journal reported.
Downs has “categorically” denied any involvement in Sergie’s killing.