Convicted Auburn man gets new lawyer for Alaska murder appeal

Steven Downs seems in the 8th District Court in Lewiston in 2019 with his lawyer, James Howaniec. His trial in the 1993 murder of an Alaskan girl concluded with a conviction in 2022. Andree Kehn/Sunlight Journal file

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — An Auburn male convicted and sentenced this year for the sexual assault and murder of an Alaska native woman around a few a long time back was a short while ago appointed a public defender to characterize his attempts in in search of a new trial.

Stephen Harris Downs, 48, was moved from the county jail in Fairbanks to the Goose Creek Correctional Heart in Wasilla, Alaska, in which he has started serving his 75-yr sentence.

Downs was convicted in February by a jury in Fairbanks, Alaska, of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska.

He was sentenced in September for the two crimes: 67 decades for murder and 8 yrs for sexual assault.

Downs will be suitable for discretionary parole after 25 decades.

By his direct demo legal professional, James Howaniec of Lewiston, Downs filed recognize in October that he would attraction his conviction and sentence.

In that see, he claimed the demo courtroom choose erred in his decision to deny Downs’ movement to suppress statements and proof from trial.

Downs also claimed the judge ought to have disallowed at demo so-referred to as third-occasion DNA proof (from Downs’ aunt.)

The decide mistakenly denied Downs’ movement to dismiss the grand jury indictment charging him with murder and sexual assault, in accordance to his see of appeal.

The trial choose really should have excluded from demo proof of firearms, knives and other weapons, Downs’ claimed.

Statements produced by Downs to regulation enforcement officers ended up allowed by the decide at trial in violation of his Miranda warning legal rights, Downs claimed.

The trial decide mistakenly disallowed Downs to current particular proof of different suspects at trial, in accordance to the appeals recognize.

Additionally, Downs claimed his condition and federal constitutional thanks process rights ended up violated by the trial decide who denied a joint movement by the defense and prosecutors to go on the trial to a afterwards date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which produced “severely compromised situation,” according to the observe.

In addition, the judge designed “erroneous rulings” concerning issues relating to evidence at Downs’ sentencing, he claimed.

In November, a choose granted the demo lawyers for Downs authorization to withdraw from the situation and scheduled a hearing to determine irrespective of whether Downs was fiscally suitable for a court docket-appointed general public defender.

In December, the court assigned a general public defender to stand for Downs’ charm of his conviction and sentence.

Downs had been a freshman at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 1993, living in a dorm exactly where the sufferer was located. His area was one ground previously mentioned the criminal offense scene, the bathtub place of a women’s bathroom.

The circumstance experienced long gone chilly until eventually 2018 when it was revived soon after Downs’ aunt experienced submitted her DNA to a enterprise that matched it in a random hit to semen observed inside Sergie at the criminal offense scene.

More than three months of testimony, additional than 40 witnesses appeared at trial in person or by videoconference on a Tv set watch in the courtroom in the course of the demo, which obtained underway in mid-January.

The jury returned its verdicts on both equally fees soon after four times of deliberations.

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