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Prosecution, defense lay out case on the first day of Joseph Belstadt trial

Joseph Belstadt is accused of the 1993 murder of Mandy Steingasser.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Exactly 28 years ago to the day, 17-year-old Mandy Steingasser’s decomposing body was found in a remote area near Bond Lake in the Town of Lewiston.

And now, Joseph Belstadt, who’s 46 now, is on trial accused of her murder.

"She was found dumped down a steep ravine, her pants were ripped and unzipped partially pulled down exposed to her underwear, her bra was tied around her neck," said John Granchelli, Niagara County Assistant District Attorney. 

Belstadt and Steingasser knew each other as students at North Tonawanda High. Mandy went missing after a night out with friends attending house parties, which were described in court as alcohol-fueled. 

Prosecutors say she was seen by two witnesses getting into Belstadt’s car, a Black 1984 Pontiac 6000.

"We will prove through reasonable, rational, logical evidence that the defendant fractured Mandy’s skull and strangled her with her own bra heartlessly, draining the breath from her body," Granchelli said.

Belstadt's criminal defense attorney says his story over the years, hasn't changed.

"Joe told the police, the same thing, he’s been saying for 28 years, I was going to take her home, but she told me she wanted to check on her friends," Michele Bergevin said.  

For decades, police have been focused on Belstadt because soon after Mandy’s disappearance, Belstadt said he went to Canada, but then recanted that story.

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"She was only in my car for a few minutes, I thought I needed an alibi to where I was, what for?" Granchelli said.

Belstadt's defense maintains that he's been a 'target for 28 years.' 

Prosecutors say it wasn’t until 2017 when they say there was a forensic break in the investigation – two pubic hairs from Mandy Steingasser found in Joseph Belstadt’s car.

"Roots that could not be readily tested in 1993, but now with advances in forensic DNA analysis, lab personnel were able to confirm both hairs were indeed from Mandy Steingasser," Granchelli said.

Belstadt's defense doesn't buy the advancements in analysis.

"You’re going hear about a lot of ways hairs can be transferred," Bergevin said, "The safest thing she did that night got in the car with Joe."  

As prosecutors revealed details of Mandy's brutal killing, members of Mandy Steingasser’s family, who were in court appeared visibly disturbed. 

Prosecutors say there are no eyewitnesses to the murder.

Attorneys working the case indicated during jury selection the trial could last over a month.