Crime & Courts

Maine man charged in Alaska cold-case killing contests extradition

LEWISTON, Maine — A Maine man charged with killing a woman 26 years ago in Alaska signaled his intention to contest extradition on Tuesday and said through a lawyer that he is innocent.

Steven Downs, of Auburn, Maine, made his intentions known in the first court appearance since his Friday arrest. A judge ordered him held without bail pending another hearing scheduled for March 18.

Alaska authorities charged Downs in the 1993 sexual assault and killing of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie, whose body was found in a dorm bathtub at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Downs, now 44, was a student at the time, and Sergie was a former student.

Downs appeared in court in handcuffs and a tan prison outfit during a brief court appearance Tuesday during which he spoke very little. Prosecutors said during the appearance that the Maine state crime lab has indicated genetic material recovered during the processing of Sergie's body is a match to Downs.

Alaska police zeroed in on Downs after DNA submitted by his aunt on a genealogical website was linked to DNA from the crime scene.

[How genealogists helped track down the Maine man accused of killing Sophie Sergie nearly 26 years ago]

Richard Charest, an attorney who represented Downs on Tuesday, said Downs is a registered nurse who is not currently working. Charest made the case that Downs has deep ties in the Lewiston-Auburn area and isn't a flight risk, and could therefore be allowed bail, but the judge shot down the idea because of the severity of the charges against Downs.

Charest called the charges "a very old allegation" and said Downs "thinks there must be some kind of mistake." He said Downs will be represented by attorney Jim Howaniec of Lewiston in the future.

Downs is also charged with being a fugitive from justice.

Prosecutors said it's possible Downs' opposition to extradition could be resolved at the March 18 court appearance. Prosecutor Andrew Matulis said it depends in part on how quickly court documents arrive from Alaska.

Alaska law allows for sentencing of up to 99 years.