U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Court denies motion to quash subpoena against journalist working on book about 1993 NY murder

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 29, 2020
Lockport, New York

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
January 29, 2020

Journalist Samantha Christmann was subpoenaed on Jan. 29, 2020, to testify about her interviews with the defendant in an ongoing murder trial in Lockport, New York. Christmann’s motion to quash the subpoena was dismissed by the Niagara County Court on Jan. 21, 2021, according to her lawyer.

The trial involves the 1993 murder of Mandy Steingasser, who was strangled to death when she was 17. In 2018, police charged Joseph H. Belstadt with the murder after newly tested DNA evidence allegedly connected him to the crime. Belstadt had long been a suspect in the crime but was only charged when the new testing was done on DNA recovered from his car in 1993, according to The Buffalo News.

Christmann is a business reporter for The Buffalo News but will not cover the trial for the outlet, The News said. Michael Higgins, Christmann’s lawyer, said she is working on a book about the murder case and was subpoenaed as an independent journalist. According to the paper, she went to school with both Steingasser and Belstadt, and in interviews she did with Belstadt he gave a different account of his whereabouts when the murder happened than what he had told police.

Higgins filed a motion to quash the subpoena in June 2020 and told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he argued Christmann was protected by New York state journalist shield laws. After the court refused to quash the subpoena, Higgins told the Tracker that Christmann did not plan to appeal the ruling. He said it is unclear when the court might call Christmann to testify; the trial has faced delays due to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on jury trials.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].