AUBURN — A local man charged with murder in the 1993 slaying and rape of a former student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus is seeking to have his case dismissed and evidence thrown out, citing a “badly botched crime scene” and “flawed investigation.”

Steven Downs, right, leaves the courtroom with his attorney, James Howaniec, after bail was denied in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in March.

In a series of motions filed Monday by lead Maine attorney James Howaniec in a Fairbanks, Alaska, court, a “few spermatozoa molecules” are the only physical evidence linking Steven H. Downs, 45, of Auburn to the rape and killing of Sophie Sergie, 20, who was visiting a friend at the school in April 1993 when her body was discovered in a dormitory bathroom. Investigators said she had been shot in the back of the head, stabbed in both eyes, struck with a blunt instrument, gagged with a ligature and shocked with a stun gun.

Downs had been a freshman at the school living in the same dorm at the time.

The case went cold for decades until DNA evidence from a commercial genealogical database helped police link Downs to the crime through an aunt last year.

Through his attorney, Downs argues in nearly 200 pages of court documents that none of the physical evidence found at the crime scene, including body and pubic hair, fingerprints, blood, and boot print, was a match to him.

Moreover, investigators identified more than 90 possible suspects, including one man who confessed to his sister that he had killed Sergie because “she wouldn’t shut her mouth.”


Kenneth Moto was seen by two women coming out of the women’s bathroom on the second floor of Bartlett Hall where Sergie’s body was later found at the time of the murder.

Moto has a history of violence against women, according to one of Downs’ motions.

During a civil suit filed by Sergie’s family against the university, officials involved in the defense on behalf of the university “concluded that Kenny Moto had killed Sophie Sergie,” according to Downs’ motion.

Moto eventually “committed another homicide and was on the run for some two months before law enforcement finally caught him,” the motion reads. Sergie’s best friend said that Moto had been staring at her and Sergie and verbally harassing them, according to discovery provided by the state.

Four students told investigators two years after the crime that they had heard on the morning of the killing a car pull up outside the dorm. Two people got out, one light-skinned and one dark-skinned, and were speaking to each other. They were heard to say, “I won’t tell them what you did … I won’t tell. I promise.” And, “I can’t believe you did that to her … You can’t go home like that … Let me clean you up.”

Some investigators concluded there were at least two people involved the crime. One investigator who undertook a reconstructive analysis of the evidence decided Sergie had been assaulted elsewhere in the dorm before she was brought to the bathtub in the women’s bathroom where her body was eventually found.


Although prosecutors have claimed the murder weapon is a .22-caliber handgun seized from Downs’ home in Auburn earlier this year, he and his attorneys say he bought the gun in Turner in 2016.

A lead investigator is quoted telling the FBI that 19 people, including students, had entered the bathtub area to see Sergie’s body before the investigator and his crew arrived, and thereby contaminating the crime scene.

Downs’ girlfriend at the time of the murder had initially told investigators that Downs’ had been with her and other friends watching movies and partying most of the night and early morning that Sergie went missing. She also said she’d never known Downs to have a gun.

But prosecutors say the same woman told a grand jury that Downs had a gun at that time.

Attorneys for Downs wrote in motions that police searched Downs and his home in February without a warrant and interrogated him after he’d asked for a lawyer.

They also are challenging the government’s search of genealogical sites that is an invasion of Downs’ privacy and amounts to an unconstitutional search.


The attorneys representing Downs wrote that although they have received nearly 3,000 pages of documents about the case, as well as audio, video and photographs, they have received little discovery from prosecutors in the way of investigators’ notes and interviews that filled “boxes” and “file cabinets” from the initial investigation. State police had called in the FBI to help with the investigation, but the “results of the FBI investigation have not been provided by the state,” according to defense court documents.

Defense attorneys wrote that prosecutors have provided “no motive” for Downs’ alleged murder of Sergie. They characterized him as having been “a healthy, good looking, popular, happy, intelligent, Dean’s list student from a solid family in Maine.”

Missing physical evidence from the crime scene includes clothing belonging to Sergie as well as forensic evidence that had been collected but was later lost over the years, according to one of the motions.

“The examination and reporting of the DNA found on the body of Sophie Sergie appears to have been mishandled,” one of the motions reads.

A crime lab worker had recorded in July 1993 that there was no semen located on and in Sergie’s body except for a “few spermatozoa” found in her vagina and the back of her thigh. But, in 1999, the same analyst corrected his report to contradict his earlier findings.

“In other words, spermatozoa that did not appear in vaginal samples tested in 1993 have remarkably somehow floated over onto microscope slides by 1999 in a manner that just happens to bolster the state’s case of sexual assault and murder,” Downs’ attorney wrote in his motion to dismiss.


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