(AUBURN, Maine) — A man has been arrested in the 1993 cold case murder of a 20-year-old Alaska woman after investigators were inspired by the technology used to nab the suspected “Golden State Killer,” according to law enforcement.
On April 26, 1993, Sophie Sergie was found sexually assaulted and murdered in a dorm bathroom at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, officials said at an Alaska State Troopers news conference Friday.
Sergie, a former University of Alaska Fairbanks student, had been at the school visiting friends, per authorities.
Suspect DNA was recovered and uploaded to CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System, a law enforcement database) but no suspect was identified, according to the Alaska State Troopers’ conference.
Decades went by without progress in her mysterious murder — until April 2018, when the cold case unit learned of the genetic genealogy technology used to identify the suspected “Golden State Killer” in California, authorities said.
The novel investigative technique of genetic genealogy takes an unknown killer’s DNA from a crime scene and identifies the suspect through his or her family members, who voluntarily submit their DNA to genealogy databases. Since April 2018, genetic genealogy has helped identify more than 20 other suspects.
Steven Downs, identified as the likely suspect in Sergie’s death, was taken into custody Friday without incident in Auburn, Maine, where he was living, authorities said at the conference.
Downs, a 44-year-old nurse, was charged with sexual assault and murder, Alaska State Troopers said, according to The Washington Post.
“Downs denied any knowledge” of the crime to Maine State Police officers, “but said he remembered posters of Sergie’s face on campus,” The Post reported.
Downs is expected to be brought back to Alaska, authorities said.
“While nothing can heal that loss, we hope that this arrest today brings some element of peace to the Sergie family,” Amanda Price, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said at Friday’s news conference.
“Justice for Sophie is finally within reach,” added Colonel Barry Wilson, Director of the Alaska State Troopers. “I am both honored and humbled to help bring some closure to Sophie’s family.”
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