District Attorney Wins Key Motions in Steingasser Murder Case

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District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek

 

By: Tony Farina

 The case against the accused killer of 17-year-old Mandy Steingasser 25 years ago could finally be headed to trial early next year as Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek has won a series of motions in court that put defendant Joseph Belstadt and his defense team on notice that the legal battle to dismiss the murder charge and suppress key evidence may be over.

The decisions last Wednesday, Oct. 23, by County Judge Sara Sheldon, included siding with the district attorney that while it took 23 years to finally indict Belstadt, of North Tonawanda, the case had continued to be worked on by police and three administrations, and therefore speedy trial grounds were lacking in credibility.

Also upheld by the judge was the admission of DNA evidence recovered from the car Belstadt was driving the night the teenager disappeared in September of 1993.  Her battered and broken body was found five weeks after her disappearance in Bond Lake Park in Lewiston.

Belstadt, who has been the prime suspect from the beginning, was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in April of 2018 with DA Wojtaszek saying at the time “this case was always a strong circumstantial evidence case.  We now have the forensic evidence tying the defendant to the case.”

That forensic evidence includes two pubic hairs recovered in 1993 from the car Belstadt was driving when his classmate disappeared and now both have been identified by DNA retesting as belonging to the victim.   The two hairs had been collected along with thousands of pieces of evidence form the Belstadt car in 1993 but it was only in 2017 that retesting was completed, leading to the final connection that led to Belstadt’s indictment the following year.

In court last Wednesday, Judge Sheldon upheld the seizure of that evidence from the car which had been opposed by the defense.  She ruled that because Belstadt’s grandmother actually owned the car and had given police permission to search it, it was obtained legally and was therefore admissible.

Also admitted were contradictory statements made by Belstadt to police at different times but telling a different story each time about where he was the night the victim disappeared.

So at last, in a case that has frustrated veteran North Tonawanda investigators like retired detective chief Gabriel DiBernardo for years, it looks like Belstadt will finally face a jury on a charge of murder in the death of his classmate 25 years ago and the Steingasser family will finally have their day in court.

The trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 13, 2020 with the district attorney as the lead prosecutor.

 

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