New York child killer goes free
Steinberg case brought national attention to abuse issue
pictured at his 1989 sentencing, served two-thirds of his
maximum 25-year manslaughter sentence.
PINE CITY, New York (AP) -- Infamous
child killer Joel Steinberg was released from prison Wednesday after
15 years behind bars for the 1987 beating death of his 6-year-old
The former lawyer, now 63, served two-thirds of the maximum
25-year manslaughter sentence. He has continued to deny
responsibility for the girl's death.
Steinberg left an upstate prison with $104 in earnings from his
inmate account and was picked up in a limousine by defense attorney
Lisa Steinberg died in November 1987 after a vicious beating in
the Greenwich Village apartment where she lived with Steinberg and
his former lover, Hedda Nussbaum.
Joel Steinberg was accused of beating the girl for staring at him
and then ignoring her injuries. But according to Steinberg, he
shared a unique, loving relationship with the slain girl -- an
assertion that led to five rejections by the parole board.
The case drew national attention, pushing societal hot buttons
for adoption fraud, child abuse and spousal abuse.
"A lot of people are not happy with the fact he's getting out,"
Hoffman said. "But he has done the time."
Nussbaum, now 59, recently announced she would flee New York
rather than face him again. She has quit her job at a domestic
violence center, the Journal News reported Wednesday. Her small
white house in Carmel was empty Tuesday.
Initially his co-defendant in Lisa's death, Nussbaum became a key
prosecution witness after detailing how Steinberg had beaten her so
badly she was unrecognizable.
Nussbaum called 911 on November 2, 1987, to report her daughter
had vomited after choking on food.
Lisa was found naked, bruised and not breathing. Her feet were
black with dirt so thick it was later scraped off. Her adopted
17-month-old brother was tethered to a nearby playpen, surrounded by
his own excrement and drinking spoiled milk.
Nussbaum had a split lip, broken ribs, a broken nose and a
fractured jaw, all inflicted by Steinberg.
According to Nussbaum's testimony, Steinberg had struck Lisa for
staring at him, then ignored her injuries and smoked cocaine. Lisa
died three days later.
The city was stunned. More than 1,000 mourners, including the
late Cardinal John O'Connor, visited her tiny casket.
After Lisa's death, child abuse hot lines sprang up nationwide,
and a poll found two out of three Americans felt child abuse cases
needed more aggressive investigation.
"The whole issue was higher on people's consciousness than it
used to be," said Dr. Kathryn Grimm, a New York-based children's
The case defied many stereotypes about child abuse. This was a
middle-class family, a lawyer and a book editor raising two children
in a historic brownstone where Mark Twain once resided.
"The House of Terror," read a New York Daily News headline.
would have turned 23 in May if she were still alive.
Lisa's birth mother, Michelle Launders, wouldn't discuss
Steinberg's release. But she won a 1987 court fight to block
Steinberg from burying the child and ordered his name deleted from
Lisa's death certificate, which now reads simply: "Baby Girl
Launders, also known as Lisa."
Lisa's brother, Travis Smiegel, was returned to his birth mother.
He will start college in the fall.
"Steinberg and Nussbaum are but a footnote in this story," the
Smiegel family said in a statement. "Let them face the darkness, and
may the light of God continue to shine on this boy."
Steinberg was as docile behind bars as he was domineering while
free, chalking up only a half-dozen disciplinary infractions.
Hoffman, his attorney, has offered Steinberg a free apartment and
a $250-a-week job with a local cable television show. He will have
to make regular visits to a parole officer through October 2012. Now
disbarred, he worked in prison as a paralegal.
But for Lisa, there was no prom or graduation, no wedding
On May 14, 2004, she would have turned 23.