On Tuesday, April 13, the pre-trial hearings continued in the 1993 rape-murder of Sophie Sergie. Both the Sun Journal and the Union Leader reported about a crucial piece of information: the bullet that caused her death. Again, the hearing was by video conference.
Sophie Sergie was killed with a single bullet to the back of her head. What was the condition of that bullet, and can it be tied to a weapon that Steven H. Downs said he bought in 2015?
From what I understand, the chain is as follows. In 2019, a gun was taken from Downs’ home (Auburn, Maine) during a search. That gun was bought from Sherman Varney in Turner (Maine) in 2015. Varney in turn, had bought the gun from a dealer that is no longer in business however, it was the Western Auto Associates Store in Livermore Falls, Maine. As discussed in other posts, the defense is challenging the search warrant.
Back to the gun.
Just because someone owns the same type of gun that was used to kill Sophie, doesn’t mean that they are the killer. You really need to tie the gun to the crime scene and the person whom you accuse. So, is this gun that Downs bought (and there is a trail) the murder weapon, and can we explain how the murder weapon moved from killing Sophie in 1993, in Alaska, to Livermore Falls (Maine), and how Downs bought exactly that weapon in 2015? This part was not answered during the hearing. I am hoping to find out more this week or, at trial.
Now to the bullet.
Two firearms experts came to the same conclusion: “The .22-caliber bullet removed from the head of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie of Pitkas Point, Alaska, was so misshapen and damaged that it was unsuitable for making an accurate comparison to any bullet fired by a specific gun.” Further, it is “both collapsed from nose to base, as well as damage from going through the prism of the skull, and possibly tumbling and hitting other things,” said Alaska State Crime Lab firearm examiner and tool mark expert Debra Gillis.
During the 2019 search of Downs’ home, the authorities seized three weapons: a rifle, a Ruger, and an H & R pistol. The rifle is eliminated as Sergie’s murder weapon but the other two cannot be ruled out. Of the last two, the H & R is more likely to be the murder weapon than the Ruger.
“Asked by Assistant Attorney General Chris Darnall whether the H & R pistol could have fired the bullet, Gillis said, “Yes, the individual characteristics and class characteristics that I see all correspond.” But, she added, “it’s not enough for an identification” due to the extensive damage sustained by the bullet.”
Adding to this crucial information, Marc Dupre, a former firearm examiner at the New Hampshire Police Forensics Lab, said that there are many weapons that “fired bullets with characteristics similar to those described in Gillis’ report as the bullet that killed Sergie.”
During the 2019 search, a knife was found and tested for DNA, no matches.
Judge Temple listened to all the arguments from the defense. They don’t want the jury to hear anything about Downs’ knife and guns. Ultimately, Judge Temple ruled that the knife and the three guns (and the information) would be admissible at trial but, the defense can always point out to the jury that it is irrelevant for the above described reasons.
Trial is scheduled for January 2022. I think there will be more hearings this week. All my posts about Sophie Sergie are here.