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Fairbanks murder case delayed by COVID-19

Fairbanks murder case delayed by COVID-19

Through Christopher Williams, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

Updated: 1 hour ago Published: 1 hour ago

The trial of a Maine man charged with murder and assault of an Alaskan woman in 1993 was postponed after the first day of testimony Wednesday due to exposure to COVID-19.

The assistant to Judge Thomas Temple of Fairbanks Superior Court explained on Thursday that two trial participants had been exposed to the virus.

“No one has been exposed to COVID-19 in court to our knowledge,” she said. “The court will continue to follow COVID-19 mitigation protocols, including requirements for social distancing, air filtration and masking,” she wrote in an email to media about the trial.

The trial is expected to resume on Tuesday with a cross-examination of a friend of the victim, who may have been the last to see her alive, alongside her attacker.

Steven H. Downs, 47, was arrested in Auburn in February 2019 after his DNA was linked to evidence found at the crime scene via a random database hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

Downs was extradited to Fairbanks, where he is being held in the local jail pending trial.

The victim, Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska, was staying with a friend.

Downs was a student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks at the time and lived in the dorm room where Sergie’s body was found. Investigators said she had visited a friend in that dorm when her body was discovered.

Investigators said Sergie was shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber pistol, stabbed in the cheek and eye, beaten with a blunt instrument, gagged with a ligature and shocked with a stun gun.

The coroner concluded the cause of death when the bullet shot into her head.

According to police, Sergie was last seen alive when she left a friend’s dorm to smoke a cigarette. Prison staff found her body the following afternoon in a powder room on the second floor.

That friend, Shirley Akelkok, testified Wednesday that she had a late dinner of pizza with her boyfriend and Sergie the night before Sergie was allegedly killed. Akelkok said Sergie had started smoking a cigarette in the dorm bathroom because it was cold outside. Akelkok said she and her boyfriend left to spend the night in his room. Sergie was supposed to sleep in Akelkok’s single room that night, but apparently never came out of the bathroom.