Ballistics expert Debra Gillis testifies Tuesday in Fairbanks Superior Court at the murder and rape trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn. Used with permission by Fairbanks Superior Court

A ballistics expert said Tuesday that a revolver seized from an Auburn, Maine, man’s home — as well as millions of other guns — could have fired the bullet that killed a native Alaska woman 29 years ago in Fairbanks.

Debra Gillis, a forensic scientist at the Alaska Crime Lab, testified in Fairbanks Superior Court that a Harrington and Richardson .22-caliber, nine-shot pistol Maine State Police found during a search of the home of 47-year-old Steven H. Downs had the same characteristics of a slug recovered from the head of the woman Downs is charged with killing and raping.

Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska, was found dead in the second-floor bathroom of Bartlett Hall at University of Alaska at Fairbanks on April 26, 1993.

Investigators said Sergie was shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber gun and stabbed in the cheek and eye.

The medical examiner concluded the cause of death was the bullet fired into her head, which penetrated her skull and exited over her left eye, lodging just under the skin.

Police said Sergie was last seen alive when she left a friend’s dorm room on the second floor of Bartlett Hall to smoke a cigarette on the night of April 25, 1993. Custodial staff found her body in a women’s bathroom on the second floor the next afternoon.


Steven H. Downs appears in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in March 2019 for an extradition hearing. He is on trial in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the 1993 murder of an Alaska woman. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

Downs lived in the dormitory one floor above the bathroom during his freshman year.

Downs was arrested in February 2019 after his DNA was linked in 2018 to evidence found at the crime scene through a random hit after Downs’ aunt submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

Under cross-examination Tuesday by defense attorney Jesse James Ian Archer, Gillis said Downs’ gun was one of possibly tens of millions of guns that could have fired the bullet recovered from Sergie.

Gillis also said that the .22-caliber bullet was so “extensively damaged,” that there’s a possibility it might not have the same characteristics as Downs’ gun and, if that’s true, his gun could not have fired the fatal bullet.

She said she couldn’t identify a specific gun that fired the bullet because of the damage the slug sustained when it hit nose-first into a hard surface.

A forensic specialist testified Tuesday that fingerprint and palm prints recovered from the bathtub area where Sergie was found didn’t match those of Downs, nor did they match those of Nicholas Dazer, Downs’ roommate at the school at that time whom the defense has named as an alternative suspect.

Prosecutors are nearing the end of their witness list of Downs’ trial, which could go to the jury by the end of this week, Judge Thomas Temple said Tuesday.

A police interview of Downs is expected to be played for the jury Wednesday.

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