Slain Alaska woman's friend says she made eye contact with Auburn man the night of the killing

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Jan. 13—If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault's 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

The friend of an Alaska woman who was raped and killed on a cold night in April 1993 said she made eye contact with the Auburn man suspected in the slaying.

Shirley Akelkok told a Fairbanks court on Wednesday that she was having pizza with her boyfriend Noah and 20-year-old Sophie Sergie in Akelkok's second-floor room in Bartlett Hall at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Sergie, an aspiring marine biologist, was a student at the university but left to save money.

Sergie later got up for a smoke, and Akelkok suggested she use a nearby bathroom where there was a vent and Sergie could avoid the cold.

Akelkok then left her dorm room with her boyfriend to spend the night away. As they left, Akelkok told the court she made eye contact with Steven Downs, now 47, heading down the hall, according to the Sun Journal.

She never saw Sergie alive again.

Downs is accused of sexually assaulting, stabbing and shooting Sergie in April 1993 before leaving her body in a dormitory bathtub, where Downs was a student from 1993 to 1996.

He lived on the third floor of Bartlett Hall during his first year and later on the fourth floor with his then-girlfriend, who later told investigators that she had not been with Downs the whole night when Sergie was killed, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Darnell said Wednesday.

DNA evidence was recovered from the crime scene, but DNA processing technology wouldn't be introduced in Alaska until seven years later.

Police did not reportedly match the DNA to Downs until February 2019, after a forensic genealogist discovered similarities to Downs' aunt's, which had been collected in a public database used to research family heritage, according to the Washington Post. He was arrested in Auburn on Feb. 15, 2019.

His attorney, James Howaniec of Lewiston, called the case against his client "extremely thin."

While semen recovered from the scene matched Downs' DNA, Howaniec said that saliva and male pubic hairs found on Sergie didn't match Downs. He also said that no fingerprints from Downs were found at the crime scene, according to the Sun Journal.

Howaniec suggested Wednesday that investigators ignored evidence that would have exonerated Downs.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

Downs, a registered nurse, was issued a warning for unprofessional behavior from the Maine nursing board after the Livermore Falls care facility where he had been working fired him, according to public records.

In a consent agreement with Downs signed in March 2017, the Maine State Board of Nursing noted that the Harris House in Livermore Falls dismissed him the previous year for "a totality of substandard performance," including unspecific comments that made female co-workers "uncomfortable."

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