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Defendant in cold-case killing could be granted 'youthful offender' status

The man accused of killing a North Tonawanda teenager 25 years ago is eligible for youthful offender status, his lawyers said.

He's 43.

Joseph H. Belstadt remains eligible because he was 18 when Amanda "Mandy" Steingasser was killed on Sept. 20, 1993.

So if Belstadt is convicted of any charge, even murder, connected to Steingasser's death, the judge could rule him a youthful offender, said defense attorney Dominic H. Saraceno.

If the judge grants youthful offender status, Belstadt's sentence would be limited to four years in prison — not the adult murder maximum of 25 years to life.

Also, according to Saraceno and co-counsel Michele G. Bergevin, Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon instructed them and prosecutors in her chambers Friday not to talk to the media about the case.

Sheldon made no mention of the issue in open court Friday, in a brief session devoted primarily to scheduling.

During that session, District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek revealed that prosecutors intend to call at least three jailhouse informants to the witness stand.

Wojtaszek wouldn't comment on where she found the informants. Belstadt served time in state prison in an arson case. In January 1996, he was sentenced to three to nine years in prison for setting a stolen Corvette on fire in May 1995 in North Tonawanda.

Cold Case Files: Mystery of girl's death began when she got in friend's car

Sheldon scheduled hearings for Dec. 10 and possibly Dec. 11 on the admissibility of the former inmates' testimony.

She also set hearings for Nov. 7, 8 and 9 on the admissibility of various statements Belstadt has made to police over the years. Wojtaszek said she expects about 15 witnesses to testify during those hearings.

Because of the volume of pretrial hearings, Sheldon rescheduled the trial from Sept. 10 to Jan. 28. She said she anticipates the trial will last about four weeks.

North Tonawanda police zeroed in on Belstadt as a suspect within days of Steingasser's disappearance. He had been questioned several times by detectives over the years, and he denied any involvement in the girl's death.

Steingasser was last seen alive about 1:20 a.m. Sept. 20, 1993, entering a car near the corner of Oliver Street and Fifth Avenue in North Tonawanda. Her body was found five weeks later in Bond Lake County Park in Lewiston, with heavy head and neck trauma. An autopsy concluded the cause of death was strangulation.

Belstadt admitted to police he picked her up in his car, but he said he dropped her off at the front steps of a church on Oliver Street. Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said at Belstadt's April 25 County Court arraignment that she doesn't believe his story.

Police have said Belstadt was seen returning from a car wash between 2 and 2:30 a.m. that morning, having washed the vehicle inside and out.

Wojtaszek said at the arraignment that new forensic evidence, which she did not reveal, led to the decision to charge Belstadt.

Belstadt rejected a plea offer to first-degree manslaughter, conveyed in a letter from Wojtaszek which North Tonawanda police hand-delivered to his home Sept. 11.

He posted a $250,000 bail bond April 27.

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