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A New York man was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life behind bars for strangling a 17-year-old high school acquaintance to death with her underwear in 1993, before leaving her body in an overgrown ravine.
For decades the case remained unsolved until investigators charged Joseph Belstadt, who was just 18 years old at the time of the murder, with killing Mandy Steingasser in April of 2018 after sophisticated DNA technology was able to link him to the crime, local station WGRZ reports.
Belstadt had long been considered a suspect in the case after witnesses reported seeing Steingasser get into his car around 1 a.m. Sept. 19, 1993 in North Tonawanda—the same day she disappeared, Buffalo News reports.
Investigators believe Belstadt took Steingasser to the Myers Lake area in Bond Lake Park, a well-known spot for teens to go to drink, to have sex with her but when she resisted his advances, he killed her, The Niagara Gazette report.
Her body was found in a ravine near Meyers Lake on Oct. 25, 1993. Her bra was found knotted around her neck and an autopsy would later determine that she had been strangled and suffered a skull fracture near her left ear.
“It was a horrendous and violent crime. He fractured this girl’s skull and strangled her with her own bra,” Niagara County District Attorney Brian D. Seaman said, according to The Buffalo News.
After a trial delay due to COVID-19, Belstadt was convicted of second-degree murder for her death on Nov. 16. One juror later told The Buffalo News the most convincing evidence presented during the trial had been two of Steingasser’s pubic hairs that had been found on the floor of Belstadt’s car along with three fibers from the rug in the car that had been discovered on her body.
However, during the sentencing hearing Friday, Belstadt continued to proclaim 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 according to The Buffalo News. “I’ve been saying that since day one, and that’s not going to change. I did not kill Mandy Steingasser.”
His attorney, Michele G. Bergevin, also slammed the jury’s decision.
“This is not justice,” she said. “Justice is not locking up an innocent man for the rest of his life.”
Just days after Steingasser was reported missing, Belstadt had gone to police to admit giving her a ride, but said he had dropped her off at a church to meet a man, who was already waiting for her.
His attorneys had argued that none of his DNA had been found on the body and the only DNA that was found belonged to Steingasser’s ex-boyfriend.
After 10 hours of deliberation in November, a jury sided with prosecutors.
“For 28 years he evaded justice for that crime,” Seaman told reporters on Friday. “We put the evidence before a jury, and they found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In an emotional plea to the judge before the sentence was handed down, Mandy’s mother, Lorraine Steingasser, said that while Belstadt had been free for nearly three decades to live his life after the brutal murder, her daughter was never given the same opportunity.
“He has been free for 28 years, and he should be sentenced for no less,” she said, according to WGRZ.
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