FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The then-girlfriend of an Auburn, Maine, man testified at his murder trial Tuesday that he had a gun and invited her to go target shooting with him 29 years ago around the time a native Alaska woman was killed on the campus of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Steven H. Downs, 47, is charged in the April 25, 1993, slaying of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska.

Sergie had been visiting a friend who lived one floor below Downs’ room in Bartlett Hall when she was sexually assaulted and murdered.

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.

Sergie’s time of death was estimated at around 1:30 a.m. on April 26, 1993.


Katherine Lee testifies Tuesday during  the murder and sexual assault trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn in Fairbanks, Alaska. Screen shot used with permission of Fairbanks Superior Court

Katherine Lee, who was dating Downs in the spring of 1993, was called by prosecutors as a witness Tuesday in Fairbanks Superior Court.

She had been living on the fourth floor of Bartlett Hall at that time. Lee said she had been watching movies in her room the night of April 25, 1993. She said many students had been in her room that night.

Downs and his roommate, Nicholas Dazer, had been “in and out” of her room that night, she said.

Lee had told investigators in a 2009 interview that Downs was “into weapons,” but she said he didn’t have a gun. She was quoted in that interview as saying: “I don’t recall ever seeing him possess any weapons.”

But in a 2019 interview with Alaska State Police, after learning of Downs’ arrest, Lee said she remembered going target shooting with Downs during their freshman year.

She described the gun as a “kind of old and beat up” revolver that fired small caliber bullets. They walked out to a wooded area where Downs shot at a paper target until the ammunition was used up, she said Tuesday. She collected some of the spent casings which she later fashioned into a necklace.


Lee said she assumed Downs had borrowed the gun because she had never seen him with a gun before that time nor after for the next two years they were together.

When asked Tuesday where the gun had come from, Lee said, “I have no idea.”

She said she knew Downs owned a pocket knife at the time and said she believed he had a “fixed blade” knife as well.

Lee said she couldn’t remember whether Downs had spent the night with her on April 25, 1993. She said she had been half asleep when a boy tried to kiss her and knew that wouldn’t have happened if Downs had been with her.

The next night, on April 26, she said she had spent the night with Downs because the following morning, she was awakened early by police seeking an interview and she was with Downs.

In that interview with investigators, in a different room, she was asked about the day before during the time of Sergie’s murder. During the interview, Downs walked into the room, Lee said.


Asked if she thought that was odd, Lee said, “Yeah, a little bit.”

Lee said she didn’t remember Downs’ demeanor changing around the time of the murder.

Asked if he seemed angry, she said he “wasn’t ever angry.”

She said Downs never talked about Sergie’s murder, but his roommate, Dazer, did.

In a 2009 interview with investigators, she said Dazer had shared with her details about the crime. Dazer had been employed as a student security guard at the time. He told her he had been assigned to keep guard in the area of the crime scene.

“I do remember now that he said that he was one of the officers who was tasked with keeping everyone out of the bathroom after the body was found and that there was evidence of sexual assault and that there was evidence of her having been shot and there was evidence of a homemade silencer,” she said Tuesday.


James McCann, a former Alaska State Police trooper who led the investigation, testified Tuesday that he did not remember considering Kenneth Moto a suspect in the crime despite having written in his field notes that Moto was “the guy coming out of the bathroom” and wrote the name of an eye witness below that note.

That witness, a student who lived across the hall from the bathroom, had told police she had seen a man leave the bathtub area the morning Sergie was believed to have been killed there. She said the man was wearing a gray shirt. Moto wore a gray shirt when he was interviewed by police the next day.

Moto is one of three men defense attorneys are expected to present as alternative suspects at the trial.

Police said Sergie was last seen alive when she left a friend’s dorm room to smoke a cigarette. Custodial staff found her body in a women’s bathroom on the second floor the next afternoon.

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.

Tuesday marked the seventh day of testimony in what is expected to be a six-week trial.

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