Former University of Alaska Fairbanks janitor testifies in 1993 cold-case murder trial

A night photo of a young woman in a blue jacket smiling and playfully holding her arms out from her sides
Sophie Sergie (Photo courtesy of Alaska State Troopers)

Content warning: This article contains descriptions of a crime scene that some readers might find disturbing.

The first person who reported seeing Sophie Sergie’s body was janitor Okcha Ancheta.

Ancheta testified Thursday in the trial of Steven Downs, who is charged with Sergie’s murder and sexual assault.

She testified by video conference from Anchorage, telling the Fairbanks Superior Court that she was cleaning the bathroom on the second floor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Bartlett Hall Monday afternoon, April 26, 1993. She said that while her work partner cleaned the toilets, she usually cleaned the shower and bathtub room.

“Some shower room is curtain just open, and some shower room is usually open, but that time was closed,” she said. “And then when I open curtain and then I saw — I was screaming — when I open and then there’s a bathtub, and then I saw a young lady lying down.”

Ancheta said she ran screaming from the tub area. She said her work partner joined her and then went to report what they had seen.

Within minutes, university police and fire arrived at the dorm.

Mitch Flynn was a battalion chief on duty that Monday in 1993, and he arrived at the Bartlett Hall bathroom shortly after other fire and police officers.

“When I came in, I first saw my medic and one of the other medics in there,” Flynn testified. “And when I went into the bathroom, looked to the right, then there was a body.”

He said Sergie’s body was wounded, but he couldn’t tell if the wounds came from a knife or a gun.

Alaska State Troopers also arrived and called the state crime lab in Anchorage to ask for forensic help. During the trial on Thursday, James Russel Wolfe testified that his team flew to Fairbanks and arrived in the evening of April 26.

“The first impression was that it just seemed very clean for a crime scene where blood was shed,” he said.

He testified that their job was to gather evidence.

“And we did a close exam. We looked at the walls, the doors, the toilets went through the garbage containers,” he said.

Wolfe said the forensic team photographed the whole area.

Wolfe was only about halfway through his testimony before court adjourned on Thursday.

Editor’s note: The court has applied strict rules to media recording, giving permission on a case-by-case basis. The court granted prior permission for KUAC to record.

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