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Murder trial gets underway for defendant accused of 1993 killing of teenager

Timelines and DNA will be crucial to proving innocence or guilt
Posted at 6:40 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 18:07:00-04

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WKBW) — Joseph Belstadt, now in his mid-40's, is facing 2nd Degree Murder charges for the death of Mandy Steingasser, 17, from North Tonawanda in 1993. His trial is underway in Niagara County Court in Lockport.

The teenage girl was last seen alive getting into Belstadt's 1984 Black Pontiac around 1:30am on September 19, 1993. Steingasser was on her way to a party, and got separated from her friends, when Belstadt offered her a ride while Steingasser was walking along Oliver Street in North Tonawanda.

Belstadt insisted he only gave Steingasser a short ride which ended when he dropped the girl off by a church at Oliver and First Avenue.

Mandy Steingasser's decomposing body was found 5-weeks later dumped in Bond Lake County Park in Lewiston (October 1993). Prosecutors told the jury the body had a fractured skull, clothes undone, a broken fingernail; and the girl's bra, with all its hooks torn off, tied around Steingasser's neck.

"Twenty-six years ago, Mandy Lynn Steingasser was brutally strangled," said 2nd Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Mary-Jean Bowman. Bowman said the body showed Steingasser had tried to fight for her life.

It was a cold-case investigation for more than two decades; an investigation made more complicated by the fact that Belstadt changed his story 5-times and convinced friends to lie for him, explained prosecutors in court.

The break came in 2017 when DNA evidence showed pubic hairs found in Belstadt's car were connected to Steingasser. In addition, fibers linked to the car's carpet were found on Steingasser's underwear. Belstadt claimed he had no sexual interaction with the girl, added prosecutors.

The prosecution told the court it plans to call several witnesses who will testify that Belstadt was talking about Steingasser's disappearance before anyone knew what happened to her. Those conversations included asking individuals to lie about his whereabouts on the night the girl went missing

Belstadt's defense attorney, Michele Bergevin, gave a very different view of the scientific evidence. She said it will only prove Steingasser was in Belstadt's car - not when she was killed, how she was killed, or where she was killed.

"We don't know what happened after Joe dropped Mandy off at the church. Only the person who killed her knows . . . and it is not Joe Belstadt," said Bergevin in court.

The defense attorney's opening statement was interrupted several times by objections from the prosecution - including when the defense began to talk about DNA found on Steingasser connected to other individuals.

After a conference with Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon, Michele Bergevin was able to continue telling the jury that DNA evidence found on Steingasser's body showed a link to other individuals. One of those is known and others unknown.

"Think about the evidence. Think about reasonable doubt," said the defense attorney.

The first witnesses in the case will be called starting Friday morning March 13th.