Steven Downs appears in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in March 2019 for an extradition hearing. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

A self-described professional genetic genealogist testified Thursday that she was the one who identified an Auburn man as a match for DNA found at the scene of a murdered woman in Alaska more than two decades ago.

CeCe Moore, who has appeared in a television network series called “The Genetic Detective,” said she was working for a DNA testing company as an investigator in 2018 when Alaska State Police submitted DNA evidence discovered in 20-year-old Sophie Sergie, who was found dead in a dormitory bathroom at University of Alaska at Fairbanks on April 25, 1993.

Steven H. Downs, 46, of Auburn, who is charged with Sergie’s killing, listened via videoconference to Moore’s testimony in Fairbanks, Alaska Superior Court during Thursday’s hearing on defense motions.

Moore also testified that the crime scene evidence was sent to Parabon Nanolabs Inc. in Virginia in an effort to create a profile of the murder suspect.

The genetic information derived by Parabon from the crime scene DNA evidence was provided to a Florida company called GEDmatch, which uses DNA information submitted by subscribers of genealogy DNA testing services, such as who give their permission for their DNA profiles to be used by GEDmatch and shared with law enforcement to create a database from which overlapping DNA profiles can be determined.

GEDmatch returned results that identified anyone in their database who shared significant amounts of DNA with the unknown sample given to Parabon by Alaska State Police, explained Moore, who works for Parabon.


It this case, GEDmatch showed that Downs’ aunt, who lives in Vermont, had a partial match with the crime scene DNA. By examining that DNA profile, Moore was able to conclude it was a male who was related by the aunt’s mother’s family, which turned out to be her sister’s son, or Downs.

Moore said she used publicly available research tools to identify Downs as the likely match to the DNA from the crime scene once she saw the aunt’s DNA profile match up with it.

There was a 23% overlap between Downs’ profile and that of his aunt, Moore said.

She said she wrote a report on her findings for the Alaska State Police, calling it a “tip,” saying “I would not expect that anyone would ever be arrested based on this work alone,” Moore said.

She testified for prosecutors before a grand jury convened in March 2019 that led to Downs’ indictment on rape and murder charges.

Asked whether Downs ever gave his permission to have his DNA profile examined against other profiles, Moore said, “No.”


Lewiston defense attorney James Howaniec asked Moore whether she believed anyone should have their DNA analyzed for matches without their permission.

“I do believe that each individual has the right to decide what they do with their own DNA,” she said.

Howaniec has filed a motion seeking to toss out so-called “third-party DNA” in this case because Downs hadn’t given his permission for his DNA to be uploaded to the database used by GEDmatch that showed an overlap with the unknown DNA profile submitted by Alaska State Police.

This is one of many motions filed by Downs’ defense team in the case. The court heard testimony on motions Wednesday and Thursday by videoconference.

Next month, Superior Court Judge Thomas Temple is expected to hear testimony about whether alternative suspects and gun evidence should be allowed at trial.

Downs was arrested in Auburn in February 2019 on the charges.


Police said Sergie had last been seen late that evening when she left a friend’s dorm room at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to smoke a cigarette. Custodial staff found her body in a woman’s bathroom the next afternoon.

During his freshman year in 1993, Downs lived at the school in that same dormitory one floor above the one where her body was found.

Investigators said Sergie had been 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 Sergie’s death was the bullet fired into the back of her head.

Alaska State Police lead Detective Randy McPherron said he got the idea to submit the crime scene DNA of the unknown suspect to GEDmatch after reading in a newspaper that the company had helped identify the Golden State Killer in Washington state.

“It just struck me as very interesting,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, this might be a new technique we should look into to see if there’s any cases that we might be able to work with this’ and I spoke with our people at the crime lab.”

Asked whether he believed he should have gotten a warrant before searching the GEDmatch database for a match to the crime scene DNA, McPherron said he didn’t because the company didn’t require one.

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