Monday was a day of milestones.
On an equally dark, damp and gloomy day 28 years ago, two men walking through Bond Lake Park in the Town of Lewiston made the grim discovery of the body of missing North Tonawanda teen Mandy Steingasser.
And it was 587 days from when the trial of Mandy's accused killer, Joseph Belstadt, ground to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two judges and a lead prosecutor later, a new set of Niagara County court jurors, seven women and five men, and six alternates, sat in a Falls courtroom listening to two very different versions of what evidence will unfold before them in what is expected to be a four-week trial to finally determine Belstadt's guilt or innocence.
Wyoming County Court Judge Michael Mohun, who replaced now retired Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon on the case, reminded the jurors, "The people have the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Assistant Niagara County District Attorney John Granchelli promised the jurors that prosecutors would provide the answer to the question that has lingered for almost three decades: What happened to Mandy?
"Her friends have asked, 'What happened to her?' " Granchelli said. "Today you will her the evidence. Reasonable, rational, logical evidence."
Then, turning and pointing to Belstadst, Granchelli said, "The evidence proves this defendant murdered (Mandy)."
Granchelli noted that Steingasser's body had been found rolled down a small ravine, her pants unzipped and pulled down. Her skull fractured and her bra tied around her neck.
She had been out with friends on Saturday night, Sept. 18, 1993 and in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, witnesses said they saw her get into a Pontiac 6000, driven by Belstadt. Grancehlli said it was the last time Steingasser was seen alive.
"The danger was in that car," the prosecutor said. "The anger, the rage, was in that car."
Investigators have long believed that Belstadt drove Steingasser to Bond Lake Park, a location they say he used as a lover's lane. Once there, prosecutors say Belstadt attempted to have sex with Steingasser and when she resisted, her killed her.
"There were no eyewitnesses to this murder," Granchelli said. "And DNA was not the same forensic tool it is now."
But in late 2017, prosecutors said they reopened the investigation into Steingasser's murder. They took another look at evidence that had been collected, included a retesting of the biological evidence using newer and more sophisticated technologies.
That testing yielded two hairs, found in Belstadt’s car, and provided them with the forensic link they say they needed to charge him with Steingasser’s murder.
"Forensic evidence is not biased. It doesn't forget. It is not confused," Granchelli told the jurors. "The only reasonable, rational, logical conclusion is Mandy Steingasser had been in a fight for her life. She lost it."
Belstadt's lead defense attorney, Michelle Bergevin, mocked the prosecutor's claims.
Grabbing a microphone and pacing back and forth in front of the jury box, Bergevin said there was a "lack of credible evidence" in the prosecution's case.
"The only thing the evidence is going to show you is that Joe (Belstadt) gave Mandy Steingasser a ride. That's all," Bergevin said. "(Prosecutors) made a lot of promises. It's not evidence of anything."
The defense attorney said her client had been the "target" of police for 28 years, because he initially lied about what he did after picking-up Steingasser. Belstadt insists he drove her just a few blocks and then dropped her off.
"That one lie became the rock that started the avalanche," Bergevin said. "The last person she was with was the person who killed her or who watched her die. But she wasn't with Joe. The safest thing she did that night was get in the car with Joe."
And Bergevin told the jurors that the forensic evidence in the case would not answer all their questions.
"You're not going to know how she died, when she died, where she died, why she died, Bergevin said. "You're not going to hear any evidence that Joe Belstadt even touched Mandy Steingasser, much less killed her. All the science, all the logic in this case points away from (Belstadt)."
Belstadt was arrested and charged with Steingasser's murder in April 2018. He faces a single count of second-degree murder.
If he is convicted on the murder charge, he could face a sentence of life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is free on $250,000 bail.