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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
(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?
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…
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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP – 1988)
NUSSBAUM: I was giving her artificial respiration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she breathing on her own?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had she regained consciousness at all?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was she moving on her own at all, ma’am?
(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…
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?
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.
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.
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…
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)
(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…
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?
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?
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…
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.”
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.
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)
(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.
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.
(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?
KING: You have such a relationship now?
NUSSBAUM: No, I don’t right now. But i have.
KING: But you did.
KING: Was that difficult for you…
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.
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…
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/
KING: And it was him that killed her.
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.