Category Archives: Personal Stories

‘An Abuse Thing’

O.J. Simpson’s Daughter Calls Police After Fight With Father

ABCNews.com/March 24, 2004

Miami — Miami-Dade police arrived at O.J. Simpson’s Florida home earlier this month after his teenage daughter placed an emotional 911 call following an argument with her father, authorities said.

Sydney Simpson, 17, was crying when she made the call on the morning of Jan. 18 and asked police to assist in what she termed as “an abuse thing.”

When they arrived, the girl said she and her father “got into an argument over family issues,” according to the one-page police report. No charges were filed and the girl left the house to calm down, according to the report.

Police could not say Wednesday if Simpson was home when officers arrived. The former football star’s attorney said he was not.

“There is nothing that occurred,” said attorney Yale L. Galanter. “What I do know was Mr. Simpson wasn’t there.”

Simpson was acquitted of the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, but a civil jury later held him liable and ordered him to pay the victims’ survivors $33.5 million.

Interview With Hedda Nussbaum

Larry King Live/June 16, 2003

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive: Hedda Nussbaum. Sixteen years ago in the crime that shocked America, her husband Joel killed their only daughter and brutally beat her, turning her into a grotesque symbol of domestic violence. And next year he gets out of jail, and now Hedda Nussbaum speaks out next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. Welcome to a very special edition of LARRY KING LIVE tonight. Our guest is Hedda Nussbaum. Hedda Nussbaum is the woman whose battered face became a national symbol of domestic abuse. On the morning of November 2, 1987, New York City police responded to a 911 call from Hedda. Entering the Greenwich Village apartment that Hedda shared with her common-law husband, wealthy attorney Joel Steinberg, police found the couple’s illegally adopted daughter, Lisa, beaten and unconscious. Hedda and Joel were arrested. Six-year-old Lisa died on November 5. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against Hedda. Joel was charged with second-degree murder and first- degree manslaughter, convicted of manslaughter in 1988 after a televised trial that included seven days of chilling testimony from Hedda. Joel was given a sentence of 8-and-a-third to 25 years, and is due to be released from prison in June of next year.

And all of this, it seems like yesterday, but it does go back to 1987, these events now approaching 16 years ago. Before we tell the whole story, were you surprised that he only got manslaughter?

NUSSBAUM: I was — not really. I was relieved that they convicted him of something because it took the jury, I think, six or seven days of deliberation. And apparently, they — a lot of the jurors were thinking that I had done it. And I was glad that he got…

KING: That’s what the defense tried to do, right?

NUSSBAUM: The defense tried to say that I…

KING: That you were (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NUSSBAUM: … that was the culprit, yes. KING: Let’s go back. Where did you meet Joel?

NUSSBAUM: I met him at a party in New York City. We — I was looking to go to — to join a half share in the Hamptons, where singles go, and…

KING: What were you doing at the time?

NUSSBAUM: … he was at the party. What was I doing at the time?

KING: For a living.

NUSSBAUM: I had just started as an associate editor at Random House, in children’s books.

KING: And Joel was a practicing attorney?

NUSSBAUM: He was a practicing attorney.

KING: And the romance developed there, from that…

NUSSBAUM: The romance developed pretty quickly, yes.

KING: You liked each other right away?

NUSSBAUM: We liked each other right away. I dated him for maybe two months and broke it off because I thought he was pushing me to date him, see him almost every night. When I would say I had something else to do, he would always convince me to change my mind. And I felt it was my fault, not his, that I was too easily persuaded.

KING: He was a control freak, in other words.

NUSSBAUM: Well, he was, but I didn’t see it that way. I thought it was because of me, that I was too easily persuaded, and broke it off with him because I felt that he brought that out in me.

KING: Why did you get back together?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I did join that house in the Hamptons. And one day, he showed up. And for a lot of reasons…

KING: One thing led to another.

NUSSBAUM: … we ended up going out that night to dinner, and then he drove me back to the city, and I was in love.

KING: And he was in love.

NUSSBAUM: And he was in love, apparently.

KING: Why — now, I’m saying this because I culturally come from the same area. Why didn’t the Nussbaums marry?

NUSSBAUM: Why didn’t… KING: Why didn’t you get married?

NUSSBAUM: I would have loved to get married, only he didn’t want to.

KING: Why?

NUSSBAUM: He said when two people are committed, you don’t need that piece of paper. And even though I really wanted marriage, I allowed him to convince me of it and I went along with him, just as I went along with a lot of things that he wanted that I didn’t.

KING: Were your parents living?

NUSSBAUM: My parents were living then, yes.

KING: Did they like him?

NUSSBAUM: They loved him. They thought he was terrific.

KING: How about his parents?

NUSSBAUM: His mother was a live then.

KING: Did she like you? You get along with her?

NUSSBAUM: Yes. Yes. Everything…

KING: So you settle into a Greenwich Village apartment? That’s where you lived?

NUSSBAUM: That’s where he lived, and I moved in with him.

KING: All right. And you then continued to work at Random House, and he practiced law.

NUSSBAUM: Correct.

KING: Now, how did Lisa come into the picture? Was there abuse before Lisa?

NUSSBAUM: There was abuse. There wasn’t any abuse for three years. Nothing physical, anyway.

KING: It was happy for three years?

NUSSBAUM: Well, for three years, what he was doing — I was very, very shy at that time. And he started building me up, helping me to come out of my shell, which I liked. I thought it was terrific. Almost every night, he would work with me almost like a therapist. And it started to actually work, so I thought he was terrific. I started coming out of the wallpaper. Also, when we’d go to parties, which was frequent, he would critique me afterwards. And he’d say, You should have said this, You should have done that. And as I said, it really started to work, so I thought he was the greatest.

KING: He was a social person.

NUSSBAUM: Yes, he was. And I was very shy.

KING: And he was successful.

NUSSBAUM: And he was successful as a lawyer.

KING: Did he also use — this came up at the trial. Did he use cocaine?

NUSSBAUM: Not at that time. At that time, he wouldn’t even take an aspirin. He said, I won’t put any foreign substance into my body. But over time, he started representing drug clients, and eventually, the drug use started.

KING: The abuse of you, though — nothing for three years.

NUSSBAUM: Nothing for three years.

KING: Now, how does Lisa come into the picture? Why — she was never legally adopted, right?

NUSSBAUM: The adoption was never completed, so…

KING: Why not? Why didn’t you go through — first of all, why didn’t you have children?

NUSSBAUM: Well, we tried.

KING: Oh.

NUSSBAUM: And I just wasn’t conceiving. We both really wanted children very much. I went through all the tests. The first test they always do on the man because that’s the simplest. And then I went through all the other tests. They never found anything wrong.

KING: But you just…

NUSSBAUM: But since Joel did…

KING: Could it have been stress?

NUSSBAUM: I don’t know. Well, today, I think it was him because eventually, they discovered he had a low sperm count — years later, but…

KING: Right. Now, how does — how do you — you mean you adopted Lisa but never — explain what happened.

NUSSBAUM: OK. What happened was that in his legal practice, Joel sometimes did some private adoptions. And so through that means, when he learned of a child that seemed appropriate, he met with Lisa’s birth mother before Lisa was born and told her that he was going to find a home for the child. She did not know that it was going to be him. And apparently…

KING: You knew all this.

NUSSBAUM: I knew that he’d met with her, but he told me she said she didn’t care if the couple was married or not, she didn’t care what religion they were. That’s not what she said later. She said she wanted only a Catholic family, and she wanted a married couple. But I didn’t know that.

KING: So did he bring home a baby to you and say, This is our baby?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I — we were — we knew that the baby was going to be born, and we — a day after she was born, she was brought to our house by one of the doctors.

KING: But did you know that he didn’t tell the birth mother that you two would be the parents?

NUSSBAUM: I — yes, I knew that.

KING: So you knew that this was not a legal adoption.

NUSSBAUM: Well, I wanted it to be legal.

KING: Did he do all the papers and everything?

NUSSBAUM: He did not do all the papers. First thing, you need a consent agreement.

KING: Yes.

NUSSBAUM: And he said that she wasn’t sure if she wanted the father’s name on the birth certificate and so I was…

KING: He conned you.

NUSSBAUM: He conned me. And I was trying to reword the agreement, and so on. But as time went on, as years started to pass, I was afraid — I mean, he — keeping this child…

KING: You found out that you didn’t have Lisa.

NUSSBAUM: Well, I knew that we had never made it official. Yes. I knew that.

KING: OK. We’ll be right back with Hedda Nussbaum and more of this tragic story. Don’t go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP – 1988)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Accused child murderer Joel Steinberg heard testimony from former love Hedda Nussbaum which for the first time directly linked him to violence against 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg the night she fell into a coma.

NUSSBAUM: One thing he said was — about Lisa, I knocked her down, and she didn’t want to get up again. This staring business had gotten to be too much for her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nussbaum said Steinberg believed she and Lisa often hypnotized people by staring at them. He complained about it that night, while allegedly free-basing cocaine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hedda Nussbaum resumed her testimony, describing how in the months before 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg died, she saw her lover, Joel Steinberg, strike the child.

NUSSBAUM: Joel grabbed Lisa by the arms and shoulders, shook her, threw her down on the floor. When she got up, he grabbed her, shook her again and threw her down. And that happened at least two or three times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She told how Joel Steinberg ordered her to dress Lisa in long-sleeved clothes to cover up bruises.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right, we’re back. Now Hedda and Joel Nussbaum have little Lisa.

NUSSBAUM: Joel Steinberg.

KING: Joel — oh, that’s — his name was Steinberg.

NUSSBAUM: His name was Steinberg.

KING: You never changed your name.

NUSSBAUM: I’m Nussbaum. No, I never did.

KING: OK. Now you’re raising Lisa, right?

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: Is that going well?

NUSSBAUM: That was going wonderfully. She was a marvelous baby, a bright child.

KING: And you loved being a mother.

NUSSBAUM: I loved being a mother. I adored being a mother. I had waited so long and thought I would never have a child. So even the nastiest tasks, like, you know, changing diapers and…

KING: You liked it all.

NUSSBAUM: … heating bottles — I adored it. I loved it. KING: And what kind of father was Joel?

NUSSBAUM: Well, when Lisa was a baby, he didn’t seem very interested. But as she started getting older, he became a really doting father. She used to sit on his lap when they watched TV at night. She — he used to take her — as she started getting older, when she was 5 and 6, he used to take her with him to business lunches or business dinner when she was in school during the day.

KING: Did you ever hear during this period of time from the birth mother or…

NUSSBAUM: No.

KING: OK. So it’s — is it — and he was good to you? I mean, would you say, at this point, she’s 5 years old, this was a normal, happy home?

NUSSBAUM: Not at this point, no. He started — the first time he ever hit me was three years after we were together. That was 1978.

KING: Before Lisa.

NUSSBAUM: Before Lisa. But at that point, it was — the first time he ever hit me, I was shocked and he seemed shocked. He took me in his arms. I thought it was a fluke. I thought he was so terrific. He’d been helping me so much. I gave him credit for all the raises and promotions I was getting at Random House because he kept pushing me into them, even though I realized they never would have…

(CROSSTALK)

KING: So you let that go by.

NUSSBAUM: So I figured — the way I think of it now is I put it in a drawer in the back of my mind and closed the drawer.

KING: Yes.

NUSSBAUM: And at that point…

KING: With the other (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NUSSBAUM: … the assaults were very occasional. Maybe another one was six months later or so.

KING: Did any occur while Lisa was growing up?

NUSSBAUM: Yes. They — as the years…

KING: And you dismissed every one of them?

NUSSBAUM: As the years went on, they started getting more frequent and worse.

KING: Why did you dismiss them? Why didn’t you leave? NUSSBAUM: I tried to leave five times — actually, six times I did leave.

KING: And he forcibly…

NUSSBAUM: Well, the first time I tried to leave, he came home while I was packing. And he said, What are you doing? I said, I’m leaving. Next thing I knew, I was down on the floor with an injured leg. He knocked me down, put me into an ice-cold bath to take down the swelling and I think probably realized how much I hated the cold water and started using that as what he called a “discipline.” If he didn’t like something I did, he’d say, Get in the tub! And that meant cold baths, which were horrible, I mean, to sit in ice-cold water…

KING: I know this is asked all the time of women who are battered. Why didn’t you just take Lisa one day and go?

NUSSBAUM: I did go five times.

KING: And he brought you back?

NUSSBAUM: And I — no, well, either I — I would always run into people who didn’t — weren’t close to him, didn’t know him, I didn’t tell them why. I didn’t want people to know I was being battered. And they would…

KING: Couldn’t they see it?

NUSSBAUM: They wouldn’t — no, at the time, they usually couldn’t. They would convince me to go back. Or I’d call him so he wouldn’t worry, and he’d talk me into coming back. And a couple of times, I ended up at a hospital when I was in bad shape.

KING: Didn’t you report him?

NUSSBAUM: I — the first time I went to a hospital was the first time he hit me, 1978. And I told the doctor, I said, My boyfriend hit me. And then I realized, My goodness, he’s a lawyer. And he’s this wonderful man who’s helping me so much. I said, No, no. Erase that. Cross that out. And I have a copy of that report, that medical report.

KING: That was (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NUSSBAUM: And it has a little line through the word “boyfriend.” She did it. She crossed it out. And it was in the hospital records for years. But in those days, no one ever — I mean, who knew anything about domestic violence?

KING: Why didn’t you report him later?

NUSSBAUM: Because I — I was really brainwashed. I mean, he was — he was…

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you were — you were totally brainwashed.

NUSSBAUM: I was totally…

KING: You were whacked.

NUSSBAUM: … brainwashed. I was. As the years went on more and more, he convinced me he was a healer. He convinced me he had magical powers. I mean, it really — he was using food deprivation, sleep deprivation.

KING: You left your job, I assume.

NUSSBAUM: I was fired because…

KING: How old was Lisa at death?

NUSSBAUM: Past 6. She was almost 6-and-a-half.

KING: When did he start abusing her?

NUSSBAUM: Not until very close to the end.

KING: Why did he start hitting her?

NUSSBAUM: I don’t know. I can only surmise that — because she was getting older, and since what he — what abusive men want is power and control. And I guess he couldn’t control her so easily anymore because she was getting older. I don’t really know what happened or why. I never saw him hit her, by the way.

KING: What do you mean? You never…

NUSSBAUM: I didn’t see him hit her.

KING: When did he hit her? When you weren’t there or…

NUSSBAUM: Yes. Yes.

KING: You’d be in another room? I mean…

NUSSBAUM: I’d be in another room or I’d be out of the house. I didn’t see him hit her.

KING: You’d come home and you’d see her. You knew she was hit, right?

NUSSBAUM: There were sometimes that I did realize what must have happened, but by that point, I was just — I was out of it already.

KING: Did she ever tell you, Mommy, he’s hitting me?

NUSSBAUM: No. She never did. I never talked about it, and I guess she followed the pattern. She never talked about it.

KING: What did you think when you looked at her? Didn’t it show on her?

NUSSBAUM: Well, there was one time when it did show on her, yes. There was…

KING: Did you…

(CROSSTALK)

NUSSBAUM: … a bruise on her head, and Joel said when she went to school, to say her brother had hit her. Her brother at that time was a baby. And so I knew what must have happened. I had to realize it.

KING: So she had a brother?

NUSSBAUM: She had a brother. There was another child that…

KING: Illegally adopted?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I don’t like the term “illegally adopted.” We did get a consent agreement that time, but the adoption was never completed, obviously…

KING: Where is that boy?

NUSSBAUM: He’s back with his birth mother.

KING: Did you get to know him well?

NUSSBAUM: Oh, yes. Yes, he was 16 — I got him also a day after he was born, and he was 16 months old at the time.

KING: Didn’t you say to yourself at all — I guess we have to explain brainwashing, what happens.

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: I’m in a bad marriage. I’m being — I’m in a bad relationship. I’m being whacked around. I worry about my daughter. I worry about this whole thing. And now we’re bringing a boy in?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I mean, from my point of view now, you know, I say this is a horrible home to have brought a child into. But at that point, I needed — I was totally — I was isolated from everybody. He had cut me off from my family, from my friends, from my job. I hardly ever went outside anymore.

You’ve probably heard of Stockholm syndrome…

KING: Yes.

NUSSBAUM: … where somebody, you know, who is abused reaches out, needs — needs that comfort. And what I’ve realized from working with battered women is that when there — not only do you reach out to the abuser, but if there’s a baby, you can hold that baby all the time. And a lot of women have told me they do. So I used to hold this child all the time, which I was told was good for him, too. And I think I really spoiled him because he wouldn’t go to sleep unless he was in my arms. KING: Incredible story. We’ll pick it up in a minute. You going to write a book, by the way?

NUSSBAUM: I have written a book. And one of the reasons I’m now giving interviews is that my agent right now has the book and is…

KING: Going to get it published.

NUSSBAUM: Trying to get it published. Yes.

KING: We’ll be right back with Hedda Nussbaum and more of this incredible tale. Don’t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP – 1988)

NUSSBAUM: I was giving her artificial respiration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she breathing on her own?

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had she regained consciousness at all?

NUSSBAUM: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she moving on her own at all, ma’am?

NUSSBAUM: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We’re back with Hedda Nussbaum. What killed Lisa?

NUSSBAUM: Well, the medical report said it was a subdural hematoma, which — apparently, they said she had been hit with great force to her head.

KING: Where were you when this happened?

NUSSBAUM: I was — I think I was in the bathroom.

KING: Were you on drugs?

NUSSBAUM: We had been doing free-base cocaine because Joel insisted that I do it with him. That last week, because I had such bad injuries to my leg, Joel was being the good, concerned spouse and saying, Well, you really shouldn’t do any because it’s not good for your circulation. So he was doing…

(CROSSTALK)

NUSSBAUM: … by that point, he was holding a kilo of cocaine for a client, and suddenly, the last few weeks, started doing it all the time and really became addicted. KING: With the little boy and Lisa in the house.

NUSSBAUM: Yes. But only at night, after they were asleep. Normally, that was the only time we did it. But then he started doing it all the time. He’d go into the bathroom and send Lisa outside to play with her friends, to roller skate, and so on.

KING: Lisa would appear to the outer world a normal child, at this point. Going to school?

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: OK. And you are a whacked-out being possessed mother, right?

NUSSBAUM: I think that’s true, yes.

KING: Because you must know Lisa’s being hit. Don’t you know that?

NUSSBAUM: I knew it had happened, yes.

KING: Did you fear for her?

NUSSBAUM: I — I’m sure I did.

KING: Do you know why you were unable to run out in the street and say, Help me?

NUSSBAUM: By that point, he had convinced me that I couldn’t survive without him. When I say brainwashed, I mean this man was using every means in the book — I mean, he was really diabolical. I have sued Joel in civil court and…

KING: Since, you mean?

NUSSBAUM: Since, yes. At the hearing, we had a Bezel Vandercoke (ph), who is a professor at Harvard Law School — Medical School testified that when somebody is repeatedly traumatized, that in order to protect you, your own body secretes something called “endogenous opioids,” which numb you, numb the pain, numb the terror. But they make you numb, I was really numb by that time. I was like a zombie.

KING: Did you walk into the room and find Lisa?

NUSSBAUM: You mean…

KING: The circumstances surrounding the 911 call were what?

NUSSBAUM: No. What happened was I was in the bathroom, and Joel — that night, she was supposed to go out with him to dinner. He often took her out. And he was insisting that both of us drink more water, so we were — he forced us to eat hot peppers that night so that we would drink water. And then we did drink water. And Lisa…

KING: For what purpose? NUSSBAUM: Because he thought it was healthy for us to drink water. And Lisa said, Do you think Daddy’s going to take me out tonight? And I said, Go in and ask him. There was no reason to think that there was any — you know, he seemed in good humor, except for the fact that he was forcing us to eat the peppers. And she went in, and I left the kitchen and was in the bathroom. And he came in, and he was carrying her in his arms — limp, like this.

KING: Was she out?

NUSSBAUM: She was out. Unconscious. And I said, What happened? And he said, What’s the difference what happened? This is your child. Hasn’t this gone far enough? He was blaming it on me. And so…

KING: Did you see any knock on her head?

NUSSBAUM: I didn’t see anything, no.

KING: She was unconscious.

NUSSBAUM: She was unconscious. And then…

KING: You were (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NUSSBAUM: … he went out to dinner.

KING: By himself?

NUSSBAUM: By himself, and left me with her, saying, Don’t worry. I’ll get her up when I come back. And I really had — he had convinced me he was a healer. And I believed absolutely that he was going to do that.

KING: So what did you do with her?

NUSSBAUM: I started giving her artificial respiration. I started while he was there and figured he knew what happened, if that was wrong, that he would tell me, That’s not going to help. And he showed me the proper way to give her artificial respiration. I thought I was helping her. Of course, it had no effect.

KING: What led you to call 911?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NUSSBAUM: My daughter (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she’s congested, and seems to have stopped breathing. She’s 6 years old.

911 OPERATOR: OK. She’s having difficulty breathing?

NUSSBAUM: She’s not breathing. I’m giving her mouth-to-mouth.

911 OPERATOR: OK, 6-year-old then. OK, I’m going to connect you to the ambulance.

(END AUDIO CLIP) NUSSBAUM: That was hours later, after he had come back and…

KING: Where is she, on the bed, lying on a bed?

NUSSBAUM: When I called 911, by that time, she was.

KING: Is she dead, at this point?

NUSSBAUM: No, she was — it was a few days.

KING: OK.

NUSSBAUM: She was unconscious. And I said, OK, get her up, when he came home. And he said, No, we have to smoke first. He wanted to smoke cocaine. So we have to be relating to each other. Anyway, hours and hours were going by, and he’s smoking this and talking. And I keep running in to check on Lisa. And finally, I just said, This is ridiculous, you know? And so then he followed me…

KING: Where’s the little boy?

NUSSBAUM: He was sleeping.

KING: OK.

NUSSBAUM: He was asleep. Anyway, he followed me and brought her into bed with him. And he didn’t get her up. I mean, all he did was put his arm on her, and it seemed her breathing became more regular, and I thought that was helping, at least. And hours went by. And finally he said, She’s stopped breathing. And I said, Should I call 911? And I had — I still — after all that, I had to ask him. And he said, No, wait. Let me try to revive her. I guess he was scared enough that he said, Call 911. And I did.

KING: And the police come, and everybody — the ambulance comes first, right? They take the child. When were you…

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: … and Joel arrested?

NUSSBAUM: Well, the next morning, the — first Joel went to the hospital, and then he came back pretty quickly, which was a surprise to me. And some police came in and — anyway, they start questioning us. They didn’t believe the — I think, apparently, they didn’t believe the story that Joel…

KING: What was the story?

NUSSBAUM: … told. The story that he had told them at the hospital, which I backed up, was that she was choking on some vegetables and then stopped breathing.

KING: We’ll take a break, be right back with Hedda Nussbaum. Joel gets out next year. Don’t go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: Was she eating something? I’m just trying to find out why she would have stopped breathing.

NUSSBAUM: I think — I don’t — I don’t really know exactly why.

911 OPERATOR: You really don’t know? OK.

NUSSBAUM: Food’s coming up. She’s throwing up a lot of food, even water.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lisa Steinberg, age 6, the illegally adopted daughter who Nussbaum and Joel Steinberg, who died of abuse and neglect last year. The two were arrested together, but Steinberg faces the charge of second degree murder alone. Calling her a zombie battered beyond will, the prosecutors cleared Nussbaum and made her their star witness. She testified that Steinberg would beat Lisa and that she would do nothing about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We’re back with Hedda Nussbaum. When did they arrest you?

NUSSBAUM: Well, they took us into the police station when the police came to house, and so we weren’t under arrest, they just wanted to question us. And they put me in a room by myself, and just the way you would see it on “NYPD Blue” or something, they left me in there for an hour, and then came back and questioned me more, then left me alone again. But at that point, I was sure that Lisa was going to be fine and I wouldn’t tell them what happened. I wouldn’t tell them the truth. I said she had bruises, she falls a lot roller skating. And I really believed she was going to be OK. And I kept asking them to call the hospital to find out how she was. And I was so surprised when they said, there was no change.

KING: You don’t know what Joel was telling them.

NUSSBAUM: No, I didn’t know what Joel was telling them. I assumed he was telling them the same story.

KING: Finally, what happened?

NUSSBAUM: Finally they said, do you want to talk — go down to the DA’s office and talk to them? And I said — or they said, we can read you your rights. And I said, read me my rights. And I preferred to be arrested at that point.

KING: Get a lawyer right away?

NUSSBAUM: Well, Joel had a friend of his who was a criminal lawyer. He called him to be a lawyer for both of us. And I went to Central Booking in Manhattan, was there a few hours and then went to the hospital. I was really in bad shape. I could have lost my leg or died of blood poisoning. The hospital — the doctor testified at Joel’s trial that within 48 hours, I would have been dead.

KING: You’re still not telling the police that Joel beat you or anything? You’re not telling…

NUSSBAUM: No, I was making up stories. Of course, they knew that it was true.

KING: And when did she die?

NUSSBAUM: She died four days later.

KING: You were on bail or were you in custody?

NUSSBAUM: I was in the hospital. I was in…

KING: With her when she died?

NUSSBAUM: No, not with her.

KING: You were not with her…

NUSSBAUM: I was in the hospital getting intravenous antibiotics.

KING: For yourself.

NUSSBAUM: For myself. And I was handcuffed to the bed with a 24-hour guard outside my door, which they said was for my own protection.

KING: Was this now a big story in all the news?

NUSSBAUM: It was a big story in all the news.

KING: And Joel? What happened to him?

NUSSBAUM: He went to Rikers Island.

KING: When did they decide to drop the charges against you?

NUSSBAUM: Several months later I was — I had agreed…

KING: To turn state’s evidence.

NUSSBAUM: Well, no. I had agreed that I would talk with the district attorney.

KING: Tell them about…

NUSSBAUM: Tell them about everything. And they eventually dropped the charges, because they believed what I said and they decided that I couldn’t have either physically or psychologically have committed it. KING: As soon as you learned that Lisa was dead…

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: Why didn’t you hate your boyfriend? Why wouldn’t you be willing to tell them everything that minute, that second?

NUSSBAUM: I did. As soon as I heard she was dead, that day I told my attorney everything. That was Barry Scheck, and it was the first time I really was shocked that, you know, I didn’t think I would tell anybody, but I told him everything.

KING: Did you get to see Joel at all during this period?

NUSSBAUM: No.

KING: He was kept in a different prison, and you were — he was in a different jail, and you were released?

NUSSBAUM: I was never in prison. I was in the prison hospital, and then I was released to — not released, but I was put into a psychiatric ward at a hospital. Because I believed that Joel was a better parent. I believed that he had these magical powers, and they thought this women needs a little help.

KING: Did Joel say you did it?

NUSSBAUM: Not right then.

KING: When did he say you did it?

NUSSBAUM: There was an interview that he had given that was in “Vanity Fair” in which he said, I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t home. And I said, it looks like who was home at the time, when — I mean, he was home with her.

KING: What happened to the little baby? What was the boy’s name?

NUSSBAUM: Mitchell.

KING: He went back to his…

NUSSBAUM: He went back to his birth mother, and she’s never let me see him. So he’s now…

KING: You don’t know where he is?

NUSSBAUM: Yes, I know where he is.

KING: You could go and look at him, go to school, couldn’t you?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I don’t know exactly where he is. I mean, I know more or less the area where he is.

KING: What stopped the brainwash? NUSSBAUM: Well, I was in psychiatric hospital. First, I was in Columbia Presbyterian…

KING: This was before the trial.

NUSSBAUM: Before the trial. And then I went to Four Winds (ph) Hospital. The trial was a full year later. So, what happened was, I was talking to the district attorneys, but I still felt from all this brainwashing that I was still in love with Joel, and one day, something — it finally just all came together. And I couldn’t sleep that night. I got up with this book in which I drew pictures. It was a — and wrote…

KING: Journal.

NUSSBAUM: Journal. I went into another room and started drawing a picture of Joel, copy it from the newspaper.

KING: That’s the picture you drew?

NUSSBAUM: That’s the picture I drew. And suddenly, all of a sudden I just saw him for who he really is. My eyes opened.

KING: And you wrote this thing: “You lousy blank, blank. Blank, blank.”

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: “Look what you did to me. You humiliated me. You kept me a prisoner. You beat me, all in front of our child. You tortured her too by doing that, you sick piece of blank, blank. You’re so cheap, you deprived her of the normal pleasures of childhood.”

NUSSBAUM: After — I call this “the day my eyes opened.”

KING: Was this introduced at trial?

NUSSBAUM: I don’t think this was.

KING: No? Did you read from it at trial?

NUSSBAUM: I don’t think at trial I did. But I then turned the page after I suddenly realized, I suddenly saw him for the first time, and I wrote, “I’m sorry, Lisa. I’m sorry I didn’t see. I’m sorry. It’s too late to see now, Lisa, but maybe we can help others. Maybe we can save another child’s life.” And that’s…

KING: Do you bear some of the guilt for Lisa’s death?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I have come to realize that the only reason I wasn’t able to do more or to save her was because of what Joel Steinberg had done to my head and my body, I guess.

(CROSSTALK)

NUSSBAUM: I know he’s fully at blame for it. But because of that day, I made a promise to Lisa and I’ve dedicated myself to helping other battered women and children.

KING: Was the trial very difficult for you?

NUSSBAUM: Yes, it was difficult.

KING: You were on the stand six days.

NUSSBAUM: I was on the stand six days, and Joel was sitting right across from me.

KING: What was it like to face him?

NUSSBAUM: What I did I didn’t think that I could really speak looking at him in the face. So the judge’s bunk was very high sitting right next to me so I moved my chair so that it would block my view of him. So I did not look at him while I was talking.

KING: This was a televised trial.

NUSSBAUM: Yes, it was a televised trial.

KING: Did that bother you?

NUSSBAUM: No, it really didn’t make any difference. Just the idea of getting up there and knowing that a lot of people blame me and knowing that he was sitting there. All of that would (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Why do a lot of people blame you?

NUSSBAUM: Well, because people believe that a mother has to protect her child no matter what. And a lot of people just don’t understand what it’s like to be a battered woman, unless they’ve been through it.

KING: And they didn’t believe brainwashing, right?

NUSSBAUM: They didn’t really understand it.

KING: Even though you looked a mess.

NUSSBAUM: I know I did. And a lot of people did understand, particularly women who had been through abuse.

I got about 200 letters from women supporting me, telling me that I helped them. A lot of women said they left their abusive husbands because of me, and I decided at one point to answer every one of those letters individually. And I did. Not — not — not a…

KING: Not a form letter.

NUSSBAUM: Not a form letter.

KING: We’ll be right back with Hedda Nussbaum on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don’t go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nussbaum had undergone a year of plastic surgery and psychiatric treatment. Charges against her in the Steinberg case have been dropped. Steinberg is charged with second degree murder.

Nussbaum fought hard to maintain her composure, though it was difficult when shown a picture of Lisa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who do you recognize it to be?

NUSSBAUM: That’s Lisa Steinberg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With respect to the first count of the indictment, how does the defendant, Joel Steinberg, how do you find as to murder in the second degree? Did you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With respect to the second count of the indictment, charging the defendant Joel Steinberg with crime of manslaughter in the first degree, did you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We’re back with Hedda Nussbaum. Lisa would have been 21 years old this year. And Joel gets out of June of next year. How do you feel about that?

NUSSBAUM: Well, I don’t believe that he should be released.

KING: He will be, though.

NUSSBAUM: He will be, because it’s time off for good behavior. He is supposed to be a model prisoner. He has shown no remorse. Never admitted to even me, or…

KING: How do you know that? Have you talked to him?

NUSSBAUM: No. No. But I mean, every time he has come up for parole, has is denied it.

KING: I see.

NUSSBAUM: He used to make up stories and then end up believing them, and maybe he believes this. I don’t know. KING: You were the prime witness against him?

NUSSBAUM: Yes, I was.

KING: Do you fear for yourself when he gets out?

NUSSBAUM: I really feel that — people have been asking me that question for years. And I have said, it is too far in the future, I have to live my life, I can’t sit and worry about it. But I think when it gets really close, I will have to make a safety plan.

KING: The defense attempted to make you the culprit.

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: Did Joel take the stand?

NUSSBAUM: No, he didn’t. I believe that his attorneys thought he would not make a good witness.

KING: Should he have gotten second degree murder? What did you personally favor?

NUSSBAUM: I just wanted him to be convicted. I don’t think that I had any specific.

KING: How long was the jury out?

NUSSBAUM: I think six days.

KING: Did that worry you?

NUSSBAUM: Yes, it did. I thought they would be back in a few hours. As days went by, I was really very worried because the only reason I figured that they wouldn’t convict him is because they thought I did it. But so I was very relieved when they…

KING: Did they later do interviews, the jurors?

NUSSBAUM: They’ve done interviews, yes.

KING: And what have said was the reason that they were out so long?

NUSSBAUM: Apparently some of them did believe that it was me who had done it, but the …

KING: The foreman.

NUSSBAUM: The foreman. Thank you. The foreman of the jury apparently convinced them that it had to have been Joel.

KING: Not all battered women are brainwashed and methodical prisoners of their battering, are they?

NUSSBAUM: They are not — I think a lot of them are brainwashed in a way in that even women who weren’t physically beaten, because the guy keeps telling them you’re no good, you’re this, you’re that, you can’t do anything right, and they start believing it after hearing it enough times, and that’s a form of brainwashing too.

KING: Yes, it is.

NUSSBAUM: It is.

KING: So there is a lot of it.

NUSSBAUM: There is a lot of it.

KING: And when you’re in it, are you desperate? I mean, what’s it like when you’re in it?

NUSSBAUM: I think it’s different for different women, of course. When I was in it, I wasn’t really — well, I didn’t think of myself as a battered woman, I didn’t realize what was happening. It is very slow and gradual.

KING: It’s not overnight.

NUSSBAUM: No, not overnight.

KING: We’ll be back with our remaining moments with Hedda Nussbaum. She has written all of this. We hope to see the book published. And we’ll wind things up with some other discussions about her plight right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUSSBAUM: Basically I worshipped him, literally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Nussbaum felt that way despite numerous beatings she said she received at the hands of Steinberg, a pattern of abuse apparently began over 10 years ago when he hit her in the eye.

NUSSBAUM: I believe I had a black eye and then I started seeing, like, flashes of light in front of the ye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One beating was so severe, she had to have her spleen removed. Nussbaum said she couldn’t leave their Greenwich Village apartment without asking for permission from Steinberg.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We’re back with Hedda Nussbaum. Put some pieces together. Was your mother — were your parents alive during this trial?

NUSSBAUM: Yes, they were.

KING: What did they think about Joel? NUSSBAUM: Well, at that time — of course, they now hated him. But they had been taken in by him, too. In fact, my mother said to me afterwards, she said, He had me fooled. I mean, she thought he was terrific.

KING: You never thought of telling your mother what he was doing to you?

NUSSBAUM: No, I didn’t — I did not want anyone to know. I didn’t want my parents to know. In fact, when he didn’t want me to see them, I, at that point — I didn’t want them to see me either. Once I started having injuries — when my nose was broken, I didn’t want them to see. I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening.

KING: Have you been able to have a loving relationship with a man?

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: You have such a relationship now?

NUSSBAUM: No, I don’t right now. But i have.

KING: But you did.

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: Was that difficult for you…

NUSSBAUM: No.

KING: To just go out with a man?

NUSSBAUM: No, it wasn’t. In fact — I think, I mean, people would think that I would be very hesitant…

KING: Wary, fearful.

NUSSBAUM: ….and wary and fearful/ But I grew up with a very good and very loving father. So I knew that and I know that every man is not like Joel Steinberg. So, I really wanted to and still want to have another relationship, a permanent relationship.

KING: Do you know why you think you loved him?

NUSSBAUM: Yes. Because, well — he was very bright and I loved listening to him talk. I mean, he just was fascinating.

KING: Mesmerizing?

NUSSBAUM: Yes, probably, yes. I just loved being around him and enjoyed him. He was very outgoing and I was very shy and it just…

KING: After being hit and then the apologies, right?

NUSSBAUM: He never said, I’m sorry. KING: He didn’t apologize. He never said….

NUSSBAUM: He wouldn’t say those words because that meant he was doing something wrong. He had excuses. He was trying to help me. He was helping my mental state. He built up a whole fiction around…

KING: Isn’t he a psychiatric case of major proportions?

NUSSBAUM: Probably so, yes.

KING: Did you know if they got him any psychiatric help in prison?

NUSSBAUM: I don’t know. I don’t know.

KING: Did you attend the parole hearings?

NUSSBAUM: I could not attend the parole hearings but — in fact, I wasn’t even allowed to talk to the parole board except for the last two times because I was neither a victim of the crime for which he was convicted nor was I considered a relative of the victim because I was not…

KING: Married.

NUSSBAUM: Or I was not her birth mother — there was no — not legal birth mother.

However, in the last few years they have changed the regulations and I did talk to representatives of the parole board before the parole hearing. So I had my say.

KING: What prison is he in?

NUSSBAUM: Right now he is South Fort Correctional Facility upstate.

KING: Do they move him around?

NUSSBAUM: He was at another prison before that, yes.

KING: As you look back, biggest mistake you made?

NUSSBAUM: Biggest mistake I made was going out with Joel Steinberg in the first place.

KING: But there’s no part of you said, I could have prevented Lisa’s death?

NUSSBAUM: I mean, there are times when — I think, I wish I had done such and such. But I understand now very clearly why I didn’t and I do give the blame to Joel Steinberg. I mean, of course, I wish, you know, I had, you know, had run away with her, that I had stabbed him with a knife, done anything.

KING: For awhile you blamed yourself.

NUSSBAUM: Yes, there was always a part of that, sure.

KING: So the help you got has learned you to have faith in yourself and to know that it wasn’t you that killed her/

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: And it was him that killed her.

NUSSBAUM: Yes.

KING: How do you explain him? This outgoing, bright, successful lawyer. How do you rationalize, understand him?

NUSSBAUM: I don’t think I really do. I know that he, like other abusive men, wants power and control. That’s their main goal. Whatever excuses they give, that’s what they want. And he seemed to thrive from it. I don’t know. He little by little — he just needed the next kick to be higher. I don’t know.

KING: Hedda, I wish you nothing but the best of life.

NUSSBAUM: Thank you very much.

KING: Hedda Nussbaum on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Speaker discusses personal experiences in abusive marriage

Kansas State Collegian/March 15, 2000
By Kelly Glasscock

Hedda Nussbaum, a victim of domestic violence, tells her story Tuesday evening to an audience in Union Forum Hall. There are 572,000 reports of domestic violence each year.

It wasn’t supposed to happen.

Her mom was a housewife, her dad a barber and neither of them ever hit Hedda Nussbaum or used drugs or alcohol.

Nussbaum, the baby of the family, grew up shy, trusting and a little chubby, she thought.

“My childhood was so normal, it was boring,” she said.

But because of this upbringing, she said, she became ready for meeting someone abusive.

Domestic violence was the topic of the speech she gave Tuesday night in Union Forum Hall. The speech was sponsored by Union Program Council’s Issues and Ideas Committee.

Nussbaum first made the news in 1987, when police arrested her and her companion, a lawyer named Joel Steinberg, after finding their 6-year-old adopted daughter comatose. Their daughter, Lisa, had been beaten by Steinberg repeatedly that day.

However, she was not the only one abused.

Steinberg repeatedly abused Nussbaum for 10 years, leaving her with a ruptured spleen, a broken knee, broken ribs, broken teeth, a cauliflower ear and endless scars.

During the time they were together, Nussbaum wasn’t allowed to leave the house or eat without his permission, and she sometimes had to sleep in the bathtub or on the floor without a blanket.

“Now, it’s just incredible how low I had sunk without realizing it,” she said. “I became a walking zombie, and I was unable to save Lisa on November 2, 1987, when Joel hit her.”

After she left the police station that night, she was surprised to see the press outside. She said she was so brainwashed that she did not understand why all those people were making such a fuss about her hospitalized daughter.

The press, some feminists and others accused Nussbaum of causing Lisa’s death. They asked why she couldn’t just walk out.

Warning signs of an abusive partner

He’s pushing the relationship too far, too fast. Is planning your future together from the moment you meet.

He hates his mother and is nasty to her. Chances are he’ll treat you the same way.

He wants your undivided attention at all times.

You feel controlled because he must always “be in charge.”

He’s very competitive and always has to win.

He breaks promises all the time.

He can’t take criticism and always justifies his actions.

He blames someone else for anything that goes wrong — often that someone is you.

He’s jealous of you close friends and family members.

He’s jealous of any man you talk to, always asks you where you went and whom you saw.

He has extreme highs and lows — both unpredictable.

He has a nasty temper.

He has no respect for your opinion and always says you don’t know what you’re talking about.

He makes you feel like you’re not good enough.

He withdraws his love or approval as punishment.

He pushes you to do things that make you feel uneasy — like taking the day off from school or work or doing something illegal.

While 95 percent of abusers are men, 5 percent are women. Men in abusive relationships are also encouraged to seek help.

“With a battered woman, it’s not a matter of ‘just,'” she said. “Now why didn’t I see this? The reason is, abuse is subtle and gradual.”

Nussbaum said many women are scared to leave these types of relationships, and people have to understand that the level of abuse gradually grows over a period of several years. By the time this happened, she was severely brainwashed, she said.

She didn’t meet Steinberg until she was in her 30s. Prior to that, she had dated throughout college and received several marriage proposals, but none were Mr. Right, she said.

They met in 1975, and she was very attracted to his charismatic ways and vibrant eyes.

“I just fell for him right away,” she said.

But after a while, Steinberg began criticizing who she was. He would sit down with her and critique her social skills. He would act as a therapist and tell her what she should do and what she should say.

Nussbaum was flattered and pleased that she had become more outgoing and had received promotions and raises at work.

“I gave Joel all the credit for all these things that were happening,” she said. “He was my savior.”

It was three years before Steinberg hit her. He smacked her with the heel of his hand and seemed sorry, but never said the words, she said.

The next morning, she had a black eye and was worried what people at work would think. She went to the hospital, and after telling the doctor that her boyfriend had hit her, she regretted it. So she had the doctor cross out the reason for her black eye.

This was Nussbaum’s first rejection of reality.

“There is always a next time,” she said. “Women tend to think that it will never happen again, but it always does.”

There was a honeymoon period in Nussbaum’s life after she and Steinberg decided to adopt Lisa. But the abuse started up again, and Nussbaum was fired from her job because she didn’t show up, trying to cover her black eyes.

Then the mental abuse escalated.

Steinberg convinced Nussbaum that she had done horrible sexual things, and that she didn’t remember it because of her amnesia.

He also made her believe that her family was evil and the root of her behavior. He would make her smoke freebase cocaine with him, make her take ice-cold baths and hit her over the head every night with an exercise bar.

Nussbaum had to leave.

She did, five times, but returned every time. She sometimes would call him when she ran away to make sure he wasn’t worried about her.

During all these years, Nussbaum never told anyone the truth. She said she didn’t know why her family didn’t find out or why the police, when they visited her twice, didn’t take notice.

Those days are gone for Nussbaum.

Gone are the days of the trial, when she was granted immunity if she testified against Steinberg, and gone are the days of recovery, when she was placed in a psychiatric hospital.

Today, Nussbaum speaks out against violence and is the editor of Women’s News, a monthly publication distributed in northern New York.

Janet Bozarth, senior in English and Issues and Ideas Committee chairwoman, said the committee decided to bring Nussbaum to K-State because domestic violence is such a serious issue.

“The Issue and Ideas Committee is really here to make students think,” she said. “Sometimes it helps to have a controversial speaker, because we can look at an issue more deeply and from different angles.”

Nussbaum said she doesn’t have a boyfriend now, but she’s not afraid to have one.

“I’m not scared of it, but men are scared of me,” she said.

However, Nussbaum is concentrating her efforts on informing people on domestic violence for Lisa.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t see,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s too late to see. But we can help others.”

Trying to Flee

Los Angeles Times/October 8, 1995
By Andrea Dworkin

Five days before Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered on June 12, 1994, she called a battered women’s shelter in terror that her ex-husband was going to kill her. The jury was not told this, because she couldn’t be cross-examined. Guess not. Most of the rest of the evidence of beating and stalking, from 1977 to May, 1994, was also excluded.

O.J. Simpson had stalked her not once, as represented to the jury, but over at least a two-year period. Prosecutors had been permitted to introduce seven incidents of stalking, but they chose to admit only one into evidence. The jury, predominantly women, was not responding to the wife-abuse evidence, said observers. In fact, during an interview late last week, one woman juror called the domestic-abuse issue “a waste of time.” Polls during the trial confirmed women were indifferent to the beatings Nicole Simpson endured.

I was battered over a four-year period nearly 25 years ago, and am still haunted by fear and flashbacks. As a woman who escaped an assassin husband, I agreed with Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden that, in 1989, Nicole Simpson knew someday her husband would kill her. She’d told many people, including her sister, Denise, that he’d kill her and get away with it. In fact, you can take a battered woman’s knowledge of her abuser’s capacity to inflict harm and evade consequences to the bank.

But five days before Nicole Simpson was murdered, she knew, for sure, she would die. How? Why? Something had happened: a confrontation, a threatening phone call, an unwanted visit, an aggressive act from Simpson directed at her. She told no one, because, after 17 years of torment, she knew there was no one to tell. The police virtually everywhere ignore assault against women by their male intimates, so that any husband can be a brutal cop with tacit state protection; in Los Angeles, the police visited Nicole Simpson’s abuser at home as fans.

Remember the video showing Simpson, after the ballet recital, with the Brown family–introduced by the defense to show Simpson’s pleasant demeanor. Hours later, Nicole Simpson was dead. In the video, she is as far from Simpson, physically, as she can manage. He does not nod or gesture to her. He kisses her mother, embraces and kisses her sister and bear-hugs her father. They all reciprocate. She must have been the loneliest woman in the world.

What would Nicole Simpson have had to do to be safe? Go underground, change her appearance and identity, get cash without leaving a trail, take her children and run–all within days of her call to the shelter. She would have had to end all communication with family and friends, without explanation, for years, as well as leave her home and everything familiar.

With this abuser’s wealth and power, he would have had her hunted down; a dream team of lawyers would have taken her children from her. She would have been the villain–reckless, a slut, reviled for stealing the children of a hero. If his abuse of her is of no consequence now that she’s been murdered, how irrelevant would it have been as she, resourceless, tried to make a court and the public understand she needed to run for her life?

Nicole Simpson knew she couldn’t prevail, and she didn’t try. Instead of running, she did what the therapists said: Be firm, draw a line. So she drew the sort of line they meant. He could come to the recital but not sit with her or go to dinner with her family–a line that was no defense against death. Believing he would kill her, she did what most battered women do: kept up the appearance of normality. There was no equal justice for her, no self-defense she felt entitled to. Society had already left her to die.

On the same day the police who beat Rodney G. King were acquitted in Simi Valley, a white husband who had raped, beaten, and tortured his wife, also white, was acquitted of marital rape in South Carolina. He had kept her tied to a bed for hours, her mouth gagged with adhesive tape. He videotaped a half hour of her ordeal, during which he cut her breasts with a knife. The jury, which saw the videotape, had eight women on it. Asked why they acquitted, they said he needed help. They looked right through the victim. There were no riots afterward.

The governing reality for women of all races is that there is no escape from male violence, because it is inside and outside, intimate and predatory. While race hate has been expressed through forced segregation, woman hate is expressed through forced closeness, which makes punishment swift, easy and sure. In private, women often empathize with one another, across race and class, because their experiences with men are so much the same. But in public, including on juries, women rarely dare. For this reason, no matter how many women are battered–no matter how many football stadiums battered women could fill on any given day–each one is alone.

Surrounded by family, friends and a community of affluent acquaintances, Nicole Simpson was alone. Having turned to police, prosecutors, victim’s aid, therapists and a women’s shelter, she was still alone. Ronald L. Goldman may have been the only person in 17 years with the courage to try to intervene physically in an attack on her; and he’s dead, killed by the same hand that killed her, an expensively gloved, extra-large hand.

Though the legal system has mostly consoled and protected batterers, when a woman is being beaten, it’s the batterer who has to be stopped; as Malcolm X used to say, by any means necessary–a principle women, all women, had better learn. A woman has a right to her own bed, a home she can’t be thrown out of and for her body not to be ransacked and broken into. She has a right to safe refuge, to expect her family and friends to stop the batterer–by law or force–before she’s dead. She has a constitutional right to a gun and a legal right to kill if she believes she’s going to be killed. And a batterer’s repeated assaults should lawfully be taken as intent to kill.

Everybody’s against wife abuse, but who’s prepared to stop it?

Testimony Opens in Simpson Trial with Account of Physical Abuse

The Washington Post/February 1, 1995
By William Claiborne

Los Angeles — The prosecution Tuesday opened testimony in its murder case against O.J. Simpson with a methodical recounting of the physical and mental abuse it claims Simpson inflicted on his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson before he allegedly killed her and her friend Ronald L. Goldman last June.

The first three witnesses whom prosecutor Christopher Darden put on the stand after seven months of pretrial hearings and jury selection provided the jury with details of a much-publicized incident early on the morning of Jan. 1, 1989, in which Simpson allegedly beat his then-wife. Simpson later pleaded no contest to a charge of spousal battery.

Police detective John Edwards testified that when he arrived at Simpson’s estate that morning, a trembling Nicole Brown Simpson emerged from the bushes, wearing only a bra and sweat pants, with a cut lip and bruised forehead. “He’s going to kill me!” he said she cried.

Lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. suggested to Edwards that she was drunk that night and that the couple may have merely been engaged in a “mutual wrestling match,” as O.J. Simpson later claimed. But the detective did not budge from his account.

Throughout the first long day of testimony, prosecutors made no mention of the killings, underscoring the strategy they had signaled in their opening statement last week.

Most of Tuesday’s testimony about the 1989 New Year’s incident had been disclosed in pretrial proceedings. A notable exception was Edwards’ assertion that Nicole Simpson told him her beating was preceded by an argument over her husband’s having had sex that night with one of two other women living in their house.

The prosecution’s first witness was Sharyn Gilbert, the 911 emergency operator who took Nicole Simpson’s telephone call early that morning and almost immediately entered in her computer: “Female being beaten at location could be heard over the phone.”

Gilbert said she heard a woman screaming and “someone being hit.” She immediately broadcast an urgent radio call for any police car in West Los Angeles to respond to the Simpsons’ estate in fashionable Brentwood.

In Nicole Brown Simpson’s Words

Los Angeles Times/January 29, 1995
By Andrea Dworkin

Words matter. O.J. Simpson’s defense team asked Judge Lance A. Ito to order the prosecution to say domestic discord rather than domestic violence or even spousal abuse–already euphemisms for wife-beating–and to disallow the words battered wife and stalker. Ito refused to alter reality by altering language but some media complied–for example, “Rivera Live,” where domestic discord became a new term of art. The lawyer who successfully defended William Kennedy Smith on a rape charge also used that term systematically.

Where is the victim’s voice? Where are her words? “I’m scared,” Nicole Brown told her mother a few months before she was killed. “I go to the gas station, he’s there. I go to the Payless Shoe Store, and he’s there. I’m driving, and he’s behind me.”

Nicole’s ordinary words of fear, despair and terror told to friends, and concrete descriptions of physical attacks recorded in her diary, are being kept from the jury. Insignificant when she was alive–because they didn’t save her–the victim’s words remain insignificant in death: excluded from the trial of her accused murderer, called “hearsay” and not admissible in a legal system that has consistently protected or ignored the beating and sexual abuse of women by men, especially by husbands.

Nicole called a battered women’s shelter five days before her death. The jury will not have to listen–but we must. Evidence of the attacks on her by Simpson that were witnessed in public will be allowed at trial. But most of what a batterer does is in private. The worst beatings, the sustained acts of sadism, have no witnesses. Only she knows. To refuse to listen to Nicole Brown Simpson is to refuse to know.

The law, including the FBI, and social scientists used to maintain that wife-beating did not exist in the United States. But in recent years, the FBI acknowledged that wife-beating is this country’s most commonly committed violent crime.

Such a change happens this way. First, there is a terrible and intimidating silence–it can last centuries. Inside that silence, men have a legal or a tacit right to beat their wives. Then, with the support of a strong political movement, victims of the abuse speak out about what has been done to them and by whom. They break the silence. One day, enough victims have spoken–sometimes in words, sometimes by running away or seeking refuge or striking back or killing in self-defense–that they can be counted and studied: Social scientists find a pattern of injury and experts describe it.

The words of experts matter. They are listened to respectfully, are often paid to give evidence in legal cases. Meanwhile, the voice of the victim still has no social standing or legal significance. She still has no credibility such that each of us–and the law–is compelled to help her.

We blame her, as the batterer did. We ask why she stayed, though we, of course, were not prepared to stand between her and the batterer so that she could leave. And if, after she is dead, we tell the police that we heard the accused murderer beat her in 1977, and saw her with black eyes–as Nicole’s neighbors did–we will not be allowed to testify, which may be the only justice in this, since it has taken us 17 years to bother to speak at all. I was a battered wife; I had such neighbors.

Every battered woman learns early on not to expect help. A battered woman confides in someone, when she does, to leave a trail. She overcomes her fear of triggering violence in the batterer if he finds out that she has spoken in order to leave a verbal marker somewhere, with someone. She thinks the other person’s word will be believed later.

Every battered woman faces death more than once, and each time the chance is real: The batterer decides. Eventually, she’s fractured inside by the continuing degradation and her emotional world is a landscape of desperation. Of course, she smiles in public and is a good wife. He insists–and so do we.

The desperation is part fear–fear of pain, fear of dying–and part isolation, a brutal aloneness, because everything has failed–every call for help to anyone, every assumption about love, every hope for self-respect and even a shred of dignity. What dignity is there, after all, in confessing, as Nicole did in her diary, that O.J. started beating her on a street in New York and, in their hotel room, “continued to beat me for hours as I kept crawling for the door.” He kept hitting her while sexually using her, which is rape–because no meaningful consent is possible or plausible in the context of this violence.

Every battered woman’s life has in it many rapes like this one. Sometimes, one complies without the overt violence but in fear of it. Or sometimes, one initiates sex to try to stop or head off a beating. Of course, there are also the so-called good times–when romance overcomes the memory of violence. Both the violation and the complicity make one deeply ashamed. The shame is corrosive. Whatever the batterer left, it attacks. Why would one tell? How can one face it?

Those of us who are not jurors have a moral obligation to listen to Nicole Simpson’s words: to how O.J. Simpson locked her in a wine closet after beating her and watched TV while she begged him to let her out; to how, in a different hotel room, “O.J. threw me against the walls . . . and on the floor. Put bruises on my arm and back. The window scared me. Thought he’d throw me out.” We need to hear how he “threw a fit, chased me, grabbed me, threw me into walls. Threw all my clothes out of the window into the street three floors below. Bruised me.” We need to hear how he stalked her after their divorce. “Everywhere I go,” she told a friend, “he shows up. I really think he is going to kill me.”

We need, especially, to hear her call to a battered women’s shelter five days before her murder. In ruling that call inadmissible, Ito said: “To the man or woman on the street, the relevance and probative value of such evidence is both obvious and compelling . . . . However, the laws and appellate-court decisions that must be applied . . . held otherwise.” The man and woman on the street need to hear what was obvious to her: The foreknowledge that death was stalking her.

We need to believe Nicole’s words to know the meaning of terror–it isn’t a movie of the week–and to face the treason we committed against her life by abandoning her.

When I was being beaten by a shrewd and dangerous man 25 years ago, I was buried alive in silence. I didn’t know that such horror had ever happened to anyone else. The silence was unbreachable and unbearable. Imagine Nicole being buried alive, then dead, in noise–our pro-woman, pro-equality noise; or our pro-family, pro-law-and-order noise. For what it’s worth–to Nicole nothing–the shame of battery is all ours.

Letter from Nicole Brown Simpson to O.J. Simpson

(This letter was introduced in Simpson’s civil trial)

 

O.J. — I think I have to put this all in a letter. Alot of years ago I used to do much better in a letter, I’m gonna try it again now.

I’d like you to keep this letter if we split, so that you’ll always know why we split. I’d also like you to keep it if we stay together, as a reminder.

Right now I am so angry! If I didn’t know that the courts would take Sydney and Justin away from me if I did this I would (expletive) every guy including some that you know just to let you know how it feels.

I wish someone could explain all this to me. I see our marriage as a huge mistake and you don’t.

I knew what went on in our relationship before we got married. I knew after 6 years that all the things I thought were going on — were! All the things I gave in to — all the “I’m sorry for thinking that” “I’m sorry for not believing you” — “I’m sorry for not trusting you.”

I made up with you all the time & even took the blame many times for your cheating. I know this took place because we fought about it alot & even discussed it before we got married with my family and a minister.

OK before the marriage I lived with it & dealt with (illegible) mainly because you finally said that we weren’t married at the time.

I assumed that your recurring nasty attitude & mean streak was to cover up your cheating and a general disrespect for women and a lack of manners!

I remember a long time ago a girlfriend of yours wrote you a letter — she said well you aren’t married yet so let’s get together. Even she had the same idea of marriage as me. She believed that when you marry you wouldn’t be going out anymore — adultery is a very important thing to many people.

It’s one of the 1st 10 things I learned at Sunday school. You said it (illegible) some things you learn at school stick! And the 10 Commandments did!

I wanted to be a wonderful wife!

I believed you that it would finally be “you and me against the world” — that people would be envious or in awe of us because we stuck through it & finally became one a real couple.

I let my guard down — I thought it was finally gonna be you and me — you wanted a baby (so you said) and I wanted a baby — then with each pound you were terrible. You gave me dirty looks of disgust — said mean things to me at times about my appearance walked out on me and lied to me.

I remember one day my mom said “he actually thinks you can have a baby and not get fat.”

I gained 10 to 15 lbs more that I should have with Sydney. Well that’s by the book — Most women gain twice that. It’s not like it was that much — but you made me feel so ugly! I’ve battled 10 lbs up and down the scale since I was 15 — It was no more extra weight than was normal for me to be up — I believe my mom — you thought a baby weighs 7 lbs and the woman should gain 7 lbs. I’d like to finally tell you that that’s not the way it is — And had you read those books I got you on pregnancy you may have known that.

Talk about feeling alone ….

In between Sydney and Justin you say my clothes bothered you — that my shoes were on the floor that I bugged you — Wow that’s so terrible! Try I had a low self esteem because since we got married I felt like the paragraph above.

There was also that time before Justin and after few months Sydney, I felt really good about how I got back into shape and we made out. You beat the holy hell out of me & we lied at the X-ray lab and said I fell off a bike … Remember!??

Great for my self esteem.

There are a number of other instances that I could talk about that made my marriage so wonderful … like the televised Clipper game and going to (illegible) before the game & your 40th birthday party and the week leading up to it. But I don’t like talking about the past It depressed me.

Then came the pregnancy with Justin and oh how wonderful you treated me again — I remember swearing to God and myself that under no circumstances would I let you be in that delivery room.

I hated you so much.

And since Justin birth & the mad New Years Eve beat up.

I just don’t see how our stories compare — I was so bad because I wore sweats and left shoes around and didn’t keep a perfect house or comb my hair the way you liked it — or had dinner ready at the precise moment you walked through the door or that I just plain got on your nerves sometimes.

I just don’t see how that compares to infidelity, wife beating verbal abuse —

I just don’t think everybody goes through this —

And if I wanted to hurt you or had it in me to be anything like the person you are — I would have done so after the (illegible) incident. But I didn’t even do it then. I called the cops to save my life whether you believe it or not. But I didn’t pursue anything after that — I didn’t prosecute, I didn’t call the press and I didn’t make a big charade out of it. I waited for it to die down and asked for it to. But I’ve never loved you since or been the same.

It made me take a look at my life with you — my wonderful life with the superstar that wonderful man, O.J. Simpson the father of my kids — that husband of that terribly insecure (illegible) — the girl with no self esteem (illegible) of worth — she must be (illegible) those things to with a guy like that.

It certainly doesn’t take a strong person to be with a guy like that and certainly no one would be envious of that life.

I agree after we married things changed — we couldn’t have house full of people like I used to have over and barbeque for, because I had other responsibilities. I didn’t want to go to alot of events and I’d back down at the last minute on functions & trips I admit I’m sorry —

I just believe that a relationship is based on trust — and the last time I trusted you was at our wedding ceremony. It’s just so hard for me to trust you again. Even though you say you’re a different guy. That O.J. Simpson guy brought me alot of pain heartache — I tried so hard with him — I wanted so to be a good wife. But he never gave me a chance.

Note: O.J. Simpson testified he never received this letter.