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Sergie Case Evidentiary Hearing Continues

A fourth day of evidence review in a Fairbanks murder case continues today. The 28-year old Sophie Sergie murder case may go to trial in March, if evidentiary hearings conclude this week. A review like this estabilishes what evidence might be used in the trial.

An Alaska State Troopers Cold Case unit matched DNA from a 1993 murder scene to a former Fairbanksan who lived in Maine. Steven Downs was arrested in 2019 and his home in Auburn, Maine was searched by Auburn City Police.

Alaska State Trooper investigators and Maine police Detectives have been testifying this week about the way evidence was gathered in the case. Pieces of evidence are reviewed to see if they would be admissible in trial. For example, this recording made by Detective Jay Pelletier of the Auburn Police as he visited Steven Downs at home.

“OK, my recorder’s on.  February 13, 2019, Wednesday, 12:31 PM Detective Jay Pelletier”

He told Downs he was working with the Alaska State Troopers.

Pelletier: “The case that they are working on, I believe you were in college at the time in Fairbanks.”

Downs: “92 through 96.”

Pelletier: “OK, all right. The other thing, too, is you don’t have to talk to us at all. We’re dropping into asking you a few questions that hopefully, you’ll be able to help us out with this case.”

Downs: “OK. And this Was when that girl was killed, right?”

Pelletier: “Yes. So, her name is Sophie Serghei. Did you know her at all?”

Downs: “No.”

Pelletier: “OK.”

?That excerpt was edited from a much longer recording.

An evidentiary hearing can be a routine repeat of whether affidavits were included with warrants, whether evidence inventories were signed and what might seem mundane housekeeping and paperwork matters. But it is an important step to organize the parties before trial.

At mid-day, Judge Temple stopped proceedings briefly to scold the prosecution when he heard about evidence gathered from a wiretapping warrant, that had not been revealed before.

Here’s what I am ordering, the state is to provide to Mr. Howaniec here in court the search warrant number as well as any other search warrant numbers the state has refused to disclose at this point.

Special Prosecutor Jenna Gruenstein said she understood the Anchorage court that first arraigned Downs when he arrived in Alaska in August, 2019, would have informed his attorneys about all warrants. Judge Temple did not agree.

There’s no reason why Mr. Downs should not have been told the existence of a warrant even if nothing else was provided for two years.

Reviewing documents and recordings will continue, probably through Friday. There were only 10 masked-up people in the courtroom Wednesday, with Auburn Police and Maine State Police officers testifying by videoconference.