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Lawyer questions evidence connecting Maine man to cold-case murder in Alaska

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Updated February 28, 2019 10:45 AM EST

LEWISTON, Maine (CIRCA via WGME) — The lawyer of Steven Downs, the Maine man accused of killing a woman in Alaska more than 25 years ago, is now questioning the evidence against his client.

Attorney Jim Howaniec has been appointed by the court to defend Steven Downs. The Auburn, Maine, native is charged with the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

"This is a rage crime, this is an allegation of a violent sexual assault, followed by a stabbing and gunshot to the head," Howaniec said. "This is completely out of the character of this individual who's highly intelligent."

Howaniec says while Downs was attending UAF in 1993, and remembers the murder, he never met Sergie.

"He's flabbergasted by these charges. He's been living in Maine for decades, he's been working," Howaniec said. "Lived a quiet life and has had no history of violence."

But prosecutors believe Downs is the killer.

Court documents obtained by Circa partner WGME show DNA evidence from a genealogical database helped investigators link Downs to the crime.

These are documents Howaniec says he hasn't been able to access.

"We're not finding that out through the court system," he said. "There's no court filing that we have seen that tells us that. The only way we're finding that out is through you people, from TV."

Ahead of Downs' next court date in March, Howaniec says he plans to vigorously fight his extradition to Alaska.

"We see nothing else that ties this individual to this crime," he said. "So we have some serious concerns about the evidence in this case and concerns about the due process and procedural aspects of this case."

AUBURN, Maine (CIRCA via WGME) — Court documents show DNA processed in Maine led police to Steven Downs, the man accused of killing a college student in Alaska more than 25 years ago.

Through new science and technology, Downs' link to the 1993 murder of Sophie Sergie in Alaska is based on one thing, DNA.

After the arrest of the Golden State Killer last year, Alaska state troopers say they turned to public DNA and genealogical databases to look for potential suspects.

A match came in December of last year, after DNA voluntarily submitted by Downs' aunt, on a genealogical website, was linked to DNA from the original crime scene in Alaska, leading police to search Downs' Auburn home and take him into custody.

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Steven Downs lives in Maine, but DNA connected him to the murder case of a college student in Alaska more than 25 years ago.

"The crime lab in Maine gave us a return on the DNA sample within 24 hours that we could use as a final note on this case," Alaska State Troopers Col. Barry Wilson said.

Genealogical databases are getting more and more common for solving crimes, but experts say people submitting to them are thinking more about their ancestry than criminal repercussions.

The website GEDmatch was used in this case, and while this technology is helping to solve crimes, some say it still raises questions about where our information goes.

Downs remains behind bars at the Androscoggin County Jail. He made his first court appearance in the courthouse next door Tuesday, where he faced extradition to Alaska.

Downs has worked as a registered nurse in Maine since 2011. State records show he was fired from a nursing job in Livermore Falls, Maine, in 2016 after making female coworkers feel uncomfortable.

His nursing license remains active.

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