A New York man got the maximum sentence for murdering a teenage girl almost three decades ago. Joseph H. Belstadt, 46, must spend 25 to life in a state prison after Niagara County jurors convicted him of second-degree murder for killing Mandy Steingasser, 17, according to The Buffalo News.
“It was a horrendous and violent crime,” Niagara County District Attorney Brian D. Seaman said on Friday. “He fractured this girl’s skull and strangled her with her own bra. That kind of calls for the maximum sentence.”
Steingasser was last seen alive in the hour morning hours of Sept. 19, 1993 in the city of North Tonawanda. Two women reportedly said they witnessed her entering Belstadt’s car. The 17-year-old girl was found 36 days later in a ravine in the town of Lewiston. Her jeans had reportedly been undone, and her purple underwear was reportedly exposed.
Cops immediately found Belstadt suspicious, citing his shifting story about dropping the teenager off at a church. First he asserted he went to Canada after dropping her off, but he later maintained he went to a donut shop, then home. He reportedly said a man was on the church steps. Friends testified that Belstadt told them to tell cops the Canada alibi. For instance, Gerard Miller reportedly told jurors that Belstadt asked him to lie to investigators and say that on the night Steingasser went missing the two men had driven to Canada.
As far as authorities were concerned, they did not have enough evidence to charge Belstadt until 2018, when investigators used more advanced DNA analysis to find out that two hair fibers on the floor of his car were Steingasser’s pubic hairs. Also, car carpet fibers from Belstadt’s vehicle were found on the teenager’s body. Both details were key to at least one of the jurors.
“It’s hard to argue with science,” the juror told The Buffalo News in November, asking not to be named. “Several of the scientists who dealt with the DNA and the hair and fibers, their evidence was pretty conclusive.”
Even so, the passage of time and the circumstantial nature of the state’s argument complicated matters.
“It wasn’t a cut-and-dried case,” the juror said. “There wasn’t a real smoking gun.”
Seaman acknowledged they were unable to determine where Belstadt killed Steingasser. He suggested it was at nearby Meyers Lake, or in North Tonawanda.
Belstadt defense lawyer Michele G. Bergevin suggested Steingasser’s ex-boyfriend Christopher Palesh as an alternate suspect. She pointed out that his DNA, not her client’s, was found in the girl’s panties.
Palesh testified he left North Tonawanda to move to Florida on Sept. 17, 1993, two days before Steingasser went missing.
The male juror ultimately discounted the ex as an alternate suspect.
“Christopher Palesh wasn’t on trial,” he said. “It was clear that he and Mandy Steingasser were intimate, so I don’t think that conversation lasted very long. It wasn’t about Christopher Palesh.”
Steingasser’s family and friends praised the verdict back in November. Seaman cited a statement from one of Steingasser’s relatives that pointed out that her mother did not have any more children.
“That’s why she sometimes cries at Christmas,” the DA said, citing the statement.
Belstadt continues to assert his innocence.
“I would like to say to Mandy’s family and friends how sorry I am for the pain they’ve gone through, but I am not the person who killed Mandy,” he said. “I’ve been saying that since day one, and that’s not going to change. I did not kill Mandy Steingasser.”
Bergevin promised an appeal.
“This is not justice,” she said. “Justice is not locking up an innocent man for the rest of his life.”
Jerry Lambe contribued to this report.
[Images via North Tonawanda Police]
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