- Steven H. Downs, of Auburn, Maine, was arrested on Friday in connection to the the April 26, 1993 murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie.
- Downs was charged with first-degree murder and sexual assault.
- Charging documents revealed that Downs was named a suspect through DNA technology that wasn’t available in the 1990s.
- Police matched Downs to the suspect profile through public DNA testing technology that helps people find their genealogical roots, used by places including 23andMe and Ancestry.com.
Investigators in Alaska used the DNA technique that led to a suspect in the notorious Golden State Killer case to pinpoint a suspect in a murder that happened 26 years ago.
Alaska State Troopers announced on Friday that investigators used genetic genealogy to arrest 44-year-old Steven H. Downs, of Auburn, Maine, in connection to the April 26, 1993 murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie, according to court documents obtained by the Portland Press Herald.
Downs was charged with first-degree murder and sexual assault.
Court filings revealed that Downs was named as a suspect after police used public DNA testing technology connected to sites like Ancestry.com and 23andme.com to re-examine DNA evidence taken from the crime scene and the victim’s body.
The technology helped authorities make an arrest last year in the Golden State Killer case in California, in which Joseph DeAngelo is accused of at least 13 murders, and 50 rapes that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sophie Sergie was visiting the University of Alaska, Fairbanks when she was killed
Sergie was found dead in a bathtub at a University of Alaska Fairbanks residence hall in 1993. She was a former student who was visiting friends at the time.
She was last seen by friends shortly after midnight when she went to smoke a cigarette, and was discovered by a custodian hours later.
A medical examiner determined she had been sexually assaulted and died from a gunshot wound to the head. She had also been stabbed, according to CBS News.
Biological evidence including DNA was collected at the scene, but limited technology failed to produce any breakthroughs. No murder weapon was found at the time.
According to court documents, Downs, then 18 and living at the the dorm, was interviewed by investigators but denied knowing anything.
Downs was named a suspect after police searched public DNA profiles
As years went by, DNA technology advanced, and in 2000 officials discovered that the suspect in Sergie’s murder was a male.
A DNA profile was uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, though no match was found in the criminal database.
Downs’ aunt voluntarily submitted DNA evidence to a genealogical profile website. The link led investigators to Downs, who was living in Maine and working as a nurse.
According to court documents, Downs’s former roommate in Fairbanks, who was a security guard who helped secure the murder scene in 1993, was re-interviewed by police in 2010 after investigators learned he was fired for possessing a firearm.
He denied having a .22-calibre firearm – the type of gun that was used to kill Sergie – but said Downs had a H&R model.22-calibre revolver at the time of the murder. The claim wasn’t enough to arrest Downs, investigators reported in court documents.
Last year, investigators contacted a lab that uses genealogical databases to identify criminal suspects though public DNA profiles from commercial companies.
As reported by court documents, investigators found the suspect profile matched Downs’ aunt on the database, which led them to Downs. Investigators then obtained a search warrant for Downs’ DNA, and it matched the murder suspect’s profile.
According to court documents, Downs told investigators he recalled Sergie’s murder – “I remember the pictures, it’s terrible, poor girl,” he said – but claimed he spent most of the night Sergie was killed with his girlfriend, who also lived in the dorm.
Downs was taken into custody on Friday and will be extradited to Alaska.
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