A woman who was in a ‘kind of’ relationship with a man from Auburn, Maine during the first few months of her freshman year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks nearly 30 years ago, took a photo of him with a hunting knife he owned, she testified Friday during her murder trial.
Blue Roesbury appeared in Fairbanks Superior Court via video conference on a courtroom monitor during the murder and sexual assault trial of 47-year-old Steven H. Downs.
He was charged with the murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie of Pitkas Point, Alaska on April 26, 1993.
Roesbury said the “fairly large, fixed blade” knife had a brass handle and a silver blade.
She said Downs kept the knife on her desk in her third-floor dorm at Bartlett Hall.
Sergie’s body was found in the bathtub of the women’s bathroom on the second floor of Bartlett Hall.
Investigators say Sergie was shot in the back of the neck with a .22 caliber pistol and stabbed in the cheek and in the corner of the eye. A witness said earlier in the trial that marks on each of her hips and between her navel and her genitals could have been made by the tip of a knife.
Roesbury said she remembered the knife because she photographed Downs with it, but said the fact that he had a knife did not seem unusual.
“Growing up in the Alaskan wilderness, knives and guns really didn’t impress me because everyone I grew up with had them,” she said.
He never threatened her with the knife, she said. In the photo, he was playfully posing with it, she said.
Shown a photograph of a sheathed knife, Roesbury said it looked like the one she remembered.
Roesbury said she did not recall ever seeing him with a gun.
Later in his freshman year, Downs’ girlfriend testified earlier at trial that he was “up in arms”, but said he did not own a weapon. She said he owned a pocket knife and believed he had a “fixed blade” knife.
Other witnesses testified Friday about semen collected during Sergie’s autopsy and described where and how much of the semen was found.
Prosecutors pointed out that no semen was detected in bodily fluids found in the underwear of Sergie, who had been kneeling when his body was found, suggesting semen found in and on his body had was dropped during his attack in the bathtub.
Defense attorneys asked if it was possible Sergie had consensual sex within 48 hours of her death, but changed her underwear before she was killed.
Kristin Denning, a forensic scientist at the Alaska Crime Lab in 1999 who examined bodily fluid slides from the Sergie case said it was possible.
When asked if she could tell from the evidence whether Sergie had had consensual sex or been sexually assaulted, Denning replied that she could not tell.
Investigators say Sergie visited a friend in that dorm and left her friend for a cigarette and was not seen again until her body was discovered.
Custody staff found her body in a women’s bathroom on the second floor the afternoon of the day she was allegedly killed.
Prosecutors say sperm found in Sergie’s body was later matched to Downs in 2018 by a random hit after his aunt submitted his DNA to a genealogy website.
Downs was arrested in Auburn in February 2019 and extradited to Fairbanks for a trial, which began earlier this month.
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