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Suspect's lawyer: Evidence in North Tonawanda murder case should be tossed

Evidence found 25 years ago should be thrown out in the Amanda "Mandy" Steingasser case because police didn't obtain a search warrant when they searched Joseph H. Belstadt's home and car, his defense attorneys contend.

Belstadt had "an expectation of privacy," even though he was living with his grandmother and driving a car registered to her at the time of the North Tonawanda girl's death in 1993, defense attorneys Dominic H. Saraceno and Michele G. Bergevin said in a motion filed in Niagara County Court.

Police have considered Belstadt, now 43, the prime suspect all along in the murder of the 17-year-old student. He was arrested April 24 and charged with murder in her strangulation death.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek has said new forensic evidence led to his arrest, without saying what that evidence is.

In 1993, police asked Belstadt's grandmother for permission to search the car and Belstadt's bedroom, and she allowed it, according to the defense motion.

Mandy Steingasser disappeared on Sept. 20, 1993. (News file photo)

The motion said police recovered "hair samples, soil samples and additional items listed in the 2,500 pages of discovery."

They found all of that without a search warrant, so the search should be ruled unconstitutional and the results inadmissible at Belstadt's trial, Saraceno and Bergevin say.

After the prosecution responds to the suppression motion, the issue will be argued before Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon on Aug. 17.

After their last court appearance July 20, attorneys said Sheldon had asked them to make no further comments to the media because Belstadt is eligible for youthful offender status if convicted.

He was 18 when Steingasser, his North Tonawanda High School classmate, disappeared Sept. 20, 1993. Her body was found five weeks later in Bond Lake County park in Lewiston. An autopsy concluded she had been strangled and hit on the head twice.

Witnesses said they last saw Steingasser alive at 1:20 a.m. that day, when she entered Belstadt's car near the corner of Oliver Street and Fifth Avenue.

Belstadt said in police interviews that he let the girl out of the car in front of a nearby church on Oliver Street.

Wojtaszek said at the arraignment that she doesn't believe that story and contended that Belstadt asked three friends to lie about his whereabouts that morning to create an alibi defense.

Wojtaszek said at the arraignment that Belstadt was seen returning from a car wash between 2 and 2:30 a.m., after washing the car inside and out.

Sheldon has scheduled hearings Nov. 7, 8 and 9 on the admissibility of Belstadt's statements to police over the years.

There also will be hearings Dec. 10 and 11 on whether the prosecution will be allowed to call at least three jailhouse informants to the stand. Wojtaszek wouldn't say where she found those informants, but Belstadt was in and out of state prison from 1996 to 2004 for burning a stolen car and twice violating parole.

The trial is set to begin Jan. 28. Belstadt, who now lives in the Town of Tonawanda, is free on a $250,000 bail bond.

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