Friday, December 24, 2021

Steven H. Downs: Sophie Sergie Case; Alaska; Trial to commence on January 3, 2021. Up-date by Alice De Sturler - she runs a top-notch, very informative, highly analytical well reaearched 'cold cases' site (check out her site!) - and reports that the judge has ruled pre-trial that Downs can present three alternatives suspects in the 1993 rape-murder of Sophie Sergie.

BACKGROUND: (From a previous post): "Forensic Genealogy. (Part Two): Philip Downs: Alaska: He was a suspect in a murder that occurred during the spring semester of his freshman year in college, in 1993, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. WMTW reports (Reporter Phil Hirschkorn) that he has been committed to stand trial (in January) after genetic genealogy tied him to crime scene DNA. Defence lawyer  James Howaniec says prosecutors have no case...Howaniec said there is no gun, no knife, no fingerprints from the bathtub where Sergie’s body was found, and no witnesses who saw Downs in or near the bathroom.  Howaniec said, “There’s a DNA profile that’s been connected to the crime scene. Whether the biological material was the result of a sexual assault, whether it was the result of consensual sexual contact, whether it was the result of a contact that was transferred from person to person, that’s the big mystery here. But the bottom line is that’s about all they have.”  He has urged Alaska police and prosecutors to refocus on alternative suspects, naming some in pretrial motions and hearings, including one man currently incarcerated in Alaska for a violent crime.  But prosecutors said in court documents, that man "voluntarily gave his DNA and was excluded as a source of the DNA found at the scene."


COMMENTARY: "Update Sophie Sergie Case," by Alice De Sturler, published on 'Defrosting Cold Cases' on December 16, 2021. Alice De Sturler: (In her own words): "I am not a law enforcement officer, not an investigative journalist, not part of the Vidocq Society, and not a private investigator. I also do not actively investigate cases. I leave that to the professionals. It is crucial that you understand that. I am a true crime writer. I analyse old, unsolved cases and raise awareness for those cases as they need renewed media attention. My background is in law (LL.M.), non-practicing, former law faculty at two major US state universities, and a member of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases (AISOCC), the American Society of Criminology (ASC), and associate member of the American Bar Association(ABA)."

GIST: "The Sun Journal notes that defendant Steven H. Downs will be allowed to present three alternative suspects in the 1993 rape-murder of Sophie Sergie. In previous posts, I have mentioned other suspects and what I saw as problematic for the defense.

Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Thomas Temple’s order allows these three men to be brought forward. I have added details from the Sun-Journal I didn’t have before and repeat here what I see as potential issues.

I am listing the men here in the paper’s order but don’t attach any degree of potential culpability to it.

Nicholas Dazer:
  • expected to testify in January 2022
  • told police Downs had a Harrington and Richardson .22 caliber revolver
  • Dazer owned a .40 caliber pistol while at UAF (Univerity of Alaska at Fairbanks) however, this “will not be allowed at trial because it doesn’t show a direct link to the crime, Temple ruled.” Sophie was murdered with a .22 caliber gun.


  • There also does not seem to be any evidence that Dazer ever had a .22 caliber pistol while at UAF
  • Dazer’s DNA does not match the crime scene
Gregory Thornton:
  • unsure if he will testify
  • identified by a student as someone who left the woman’s bathroom where Sergie was found
  • lived, maybe against UAF regulations, with a friend who had a room at the dorm before Sergie’s murder
  • disappeared from campus shortly after her body was found


  • Thornton’s DNA does not match the crime scene. The defense questioned if his fingerprints were found at the crime scene.
  • Does Thornton have an alibi for the night of the crime?
Kenneth Moto:

Moto is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. He has a record of crimes against women.

A female student described a man resembling Moto on the night of the crime leaving the dorm. What stood out was his grey T-shirt. When Moto was questioned by police, he was wearing a grey t-shirt.

More important is that Moto’s sister told the authorities many years later, that her brother had confessed to her. He mentioned a knife.


  • grey t-shirts are very common so unless it has an application or another distinctive mark, it isn’t groundbreaking
  • Moto’s confession mentions a knife but we know from prior posts that several weapons were involved e.g. a stun gun a gun, ligatures, and something that caused blunt force trauma to Sophie’s head.
  • Can we tie Moto to the crime scene?
  • Was there a connection between Moto, Sergie, or the University?
  • Assistant Attorney General Jenna Gruenstein countered Howaniec’s argument, noting that Moto’s photo was not picked out of a photo lineup by the witness in the bathroom.”
  • Moto’s sister passed away so her words cannot be presented as evidence at trial as they cannot be confronted (hearsay) by the defense.
  • Does Moto have an alibi for the night of the crime?
  • The female student who saw a man wearing a grey t-shirt said that she did not think that man was an Alaskan native. Moto is. She also said that she knew Moto and would have recognized him if it had been Moto. During the picture line-up, she pointed to Thornton.

If Moto were to be called as a witness, Downs’ attorneys could question him about his relationship with Sergie, where he was the night of her disappearance and what he was doing, as well as whether he told his sister he had killed Sergie, Temple wrote.” Whether he will be called to testify is unclear.

The trial is scheduled for January 3, 2022 and is expected to last three weeks."

The entire commentary can be read at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: "I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;

FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they've exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;
FINAL, FINAL, FINAL WORD: "It is incredibly easy to convict an innocent person, but it's exceedingly difficult to undo such a devastating injustice. 
Jennifer Givens: DirectorL UVA Innocence Project.