Category Archives: Articles

NYC Child Killer Must Pay $15M to Mother

New York Times/January 17, 2007

New York — Joel Steinberg, the disbarred lawyer who served 17 years in prison for killing his illegally adopted daughter, must pay $15 million to the girl’s birth mother, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The appeals court affirmed a lower court decision to award Michele Launders $5 million for 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg’s pain and suffering, $5 million for pain and suffering ”as a battered child” and $5 million in punitive damages.

Joel Steinberg argued the award was excessive and should be reduced because Lisa died relatively quickly, after ”at most eight hours of pain and suffering.”

”We disagree, and in simply so stating acknowledge that sometimes words fail even those who use the language to render judgments on a daily basis,” the court wrote.

Steinberg got Lisa as a days-old infant from Launders, at the time an unwed teen, who paid him $500 in legal fees to arrange an adoption. Instead, Steinberg took the baby home to Hedda Nussbaum, his live-in companion.

After Lisa’s death at Steinberg’s hands on November 1987, Launders filed wrongful-death lawsuits against Steinberg, Nussbaum and New York City the following year. The action against Nussbaum was settled. The city settled with Launders in 1999 for $985,000 while admitting no wrongdoing.

Steinberg, 65, was released from prison in June 2004 and is on parole until 2012. Launders’ lawyer, Wayne J. Schaefer, said he does not believe Steinberg has any significant assets.

Survivors’ stories: Three abused women find way out, discover their worth

Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)/November 14, 2004
By Matt Cooper

Three women from different places, different jobs, different backgrounds.

They have two things in common: They were beaten, and despite the danger of leaving a violent partner, they got out.

The women don’t know each other, but when they talk about domestic violence, they speak with the same voice.

All three said they were “brainwashed,” that the physical and emotional abuse left them believing that they deserved it, that they were the ones at fault, not the abuser.

All three lost their identity and their independence – so completely, in some instances, that they couldn’t order for themselves in a restaurant or figure out how to spend a Saturday.

All three came to accept that they can’t change someone else, that they can only change themselves.

The women also echoed one another in recalling what it took to get out.

First you have to find yourself, they said. Then you have to back your words up with action. You have to believe that you deserve better.

The women share one more thing: Today, all three are happy and healthy.

JeriAnn learned to endure the hitting, the kicking, the choking, the verbal and emotional abuse.

But the reddish-blue bruises across her little girl’s thigh – the size and shape of a man’s handprint – pushed her over the top.

I have to get myself out of this, she said to herself. I have to get my children out of this.

It was 1987, in a small town near Portland.

JeriAnn had been married for seven years. She was the mother of two curly-haired girls, 5 and 3 years old; a boy would come later.

Her husband wasn’t abusive at first, just controlling. But over the years, the control turned into black eyes and split lips – weekly attacks that she accepted, because she thought she had done something wrong to provoke them.

A vicious fight one night ended with JeriAnn at a friend’s. When she returned home in the morning, she checked on her 5-year-old, who had stayed in the house with her husband.

The girl pulled back her plaid skirt and showed the bruises; she had been struck for asking her father why he couldn’t stop drinking.

“I just started crying,” JeriAnn said. “I realized this wasn’t just affecting me. This was affecting my kids. I decided at that time, I’m out.”

Through a Christian support group, JeriAnn devoured material on codependency, coming to realize that the abuse had replaced her identity – her sense of self – with blind obedience to her husband.

She confronted her pain in excruciating counseling sessions – “like peeling your skin off from the inside out,” she said – and a new woman eventually emerged.

“I decided I didn’t have to have a man in my life,” JeriAnn said. “Being a single mom felt pretty darn good.”

For the first time, she started backing up her words with action.

She called her county’s victims’ assistance program and learned what the law could do to protect her. She received a restraining order and began the divorce process; when he violated the order she called the police. She got a guard dog and a handgun.

She wanted answers to her questions about divorce, domestic violence, personal safety. The more she shared, the more people offered to help.

He fought her for two years, stalking her while he also delayed or missed court dates; he sent her notes that read, “I love you.” But as the divorce played out in 1990, he started another relationship and moved on.

JeriAnn, of west Eugene, is 45 now. She’s an elementary school secretary who relishes working with kids and parents, especially the troubled ones. She is strong but affectionate, with a calm, confident gaze to match her propensity for giving hugs.

In December, she’ll celebrate 13 years of marriage to a man who treats her like a queen. He’s her best friend; he writes poems and hides them for her to find later.

Her younger daughter is a college student studying to become a nurse. The son is a student and athlete at Willamette High School.

And the 5-year-old? She’s 22 now, recently married to a good man, JeriAnn said.

Sometimes she has to pinch herself.

“My normal life to me is a pretty good dream,” she said. “It was gut-scratching hell to climb out of the hole. I’m lucky I made it out. It’s so good now, sometimes I forget the past.”

Desiree found salvation at a New Age bookstore in a small California town.

At 17, she had been an independent thinker, a strong student who challenged the deferential roles relegated to women in her branch of the Baptist faith. She peppered her Sunday school teachers with questions that made them squirm.

Marriage changed her. She married at 23, to a man she’d dated in high school – the first man she’d ever dated, the first she’d ever kissed.

There were ominous signs, but she missed them: He burned with anger if she so much as talked to another man, but she mistook it for love.

“When he got really jealous and upset, I thought to myself that he must really love me if he can’t stand for another man to look at me or talk to me,” Desiree said.

During 10 years of marriage, the abuse escalated. He was careful not to blacken her eyes or knock out her teeth – unmistakable clues for the world to see – instead throwing her against a wall or smothering her with a pillow until she started to black out.

He was a real estate broker, a wealthy man respected in their community. She was just his appendage. The independent thinker had been systematically beaten down, replaced by a woman who thought that if she just remained quiet, everything would be OK.

But the bookstore shouted at Desiree to speak up.

She walked in one day in the early 1990s, and quickly found that she was in her element among the incense and crystals.

Desiree eventually left her cashier’s job to work at the bookstore. She read feminist writers Gloria Steinem and Mary Anne Williamson, Ginny Nicarthy’s “Getting Free,” and books on Wicca, a religion that promotes, in part, male-female balance.

She realized that she had done nothing to provoke the abuse, but it was up to her to stop it.

She stopped hovering over her husband, stopped asking permission. She took to a quiet corner of the house and read to herself. She developed her own friends, ones who valued her for who she was.

“It reaffirmed that I actually had a self to share with people – that I was a living, thinking person with something to offer,” Desiree said.

He stranded her at a friend’s one night in 1993 and that was it: She moved out the next day and divorced him within nine months.

Today Desiree, 42, wears a pentacle – a five-pointed star – around her neck. It’s a Wiccan symbol, one that represents natural and spiritual harmony, and her second husband respects it just as he respects her.

They have a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, and they live in a cozy, forested McKenzie Bridge home with more dogs, cats and chickens than can be easily counted.

When not running her child care business, Desiree draws, paints and reads.

The bitter memories, a decade old now, still make her eyes well up. But nothing more.

“My life is infinitely better,” Desiree said. “Everybody has challenges and struggles, but there’s no comparison between now and then. I only wish that I had known what the future held for me – how much better it would get.”

When he tucked the rifle under her chin and told her that she was going to die, calmness washed over Debbie.

“I had accepted it,” she said. “The fear actually dissipates.”

Instead, her husband jerked the barrel up, throwing her head back as he discharged a round over her face.

She had married him at 19, and they lived in Nevada around 1985. He was a mountain man, strong and deep, and she had loved his passion. He said he needed her for his very existence.

But it wasn’t healthy, Debbie said. His drinking was an embarrassment for her, and when the physical abuse started, she thought she was the only woman in the world experiencing it.

She used to watch cars motor down the road – she saw the happy couples inside, and she thought to herself how lucky the women were not to have to worry about being beaten tonight.

She had left before, but his threats to harm her mother and sister always brought her back.

Either I’m going to die or he’s going to die, Debbie thought to herself, and she contemplated killing him.

The rifle blast ended it. Debbie was gone in two days, her resolve galvanized by a rediscovered spirituality.

She planned it all out. She needed a 30-minute head start before he would realize she was gone, lest he tear up and down the highways in search of her.

She warned her friends and family to say nothing, then took off, ultimately arriving at an old friend’s in Junction City, a friend that he didn’t know. She left no note, no phone number, no way whatsoever to find her.

Debbie was 25, and she owned the world. She started doing the things she wanted to do: She made her own friends, she chatted up her neighbors, and she bought a house, fixing it up and renting out a room, all on a waitress’ salary.

And she learned a lesson.

“If I dated a guy who seemed in any way controlling – in any way – I would just get rid of him so fast it would make your head spin,” said Debbie, who did just that on one occasion.

Today, at 44 and living in Eugene, Debbie works for the Eugene School District. She’s an active parent and an engaged political volunteer. She feels a deep responsibility to help others.

Debbie has been married for 16 years, and she has a 15-year-old son by her second husband. Both, she believes, are rewards for the change she made.

Her husband respects their political differences and her occasional long hours as a volunteer and a helper in their son’s school. He honored her need to design – and redesign – the two-story farmhouse that they built together.

Most important, perhaps, he respects her need to be alone. Debbie likes to go to the coast, where she sits on the beach with her dog, Jack, and writes about her feelings.

“You have to have some self-worth in order to be able to leave,” Debbie said. “You need to say, `Hey, I’m worth something, I deserve better.’ When I think about my life before, it seems like a different lifetime. It really makes me appreciate what I have.

“Now I feel like I’m one of those people that I looked at in the car and wished I was.”

Suffering Abuse

The state can’t say exactly how many women in Oregon have been abused by a partner, because not all women report it.

But in a telephone survey taken in 2001-02, one in 10 women between the ages of 20 and 55 said they’d been physically or sexually assaulted in the preceding five years – 85,000 women, according to the Department of Human Services.

Thirteen percent of those women were knocked unconscious or suffered broken bones, chipped teeth or other serious injuries.

Steinberg Calls Himself ‘A Good Father’

New York Times/August 7, 2004

New York — Joel Steinberg, free after serving nearly 17 years in the beating death of his 6-year-old adopted daughter, still describes himself as “a good father” and said he pushed the girl but did not hit her.

Steinberg served two-thirds of the maximum 25-year sentence after he was convicted of killing Lisa Steinberg. The girl died in November 1987, three days after she was brutally beaten in the apartment Steinberg shared with his lover, Hedda Nussbaum, who also had been beaten.

In an interview with New York magazine, the disbarred lawyer continued to deny responsibility for the child’s death. “As soon as we saw that she wasn’t breathing right, we called the ambulance,” he said. “What would anyone else have done?”

“I was a good father,” he said in the interview in the edition that hits newsstands on Monday. “Of course, I’m sorry my daughter’s dead. But the medical reports showed no ‘present’ or ‘historical’ fractures or wounds. That means no history of abuse. Got it?”

The magazine quoted an expert as saying Steinberg was selectively quoting from a medical report that showed the girl had injuries including brain swelling.

“If a man my size, with a fist as big as mine, hit you in the forehead, you’d hit the floor and have a mark you’d remember. If I hit a little girl that way, the bruise would have been bigger than her head!” he said.

Steinberg told the magazine he pushed his daughter, “with the soft pad, you know, on your palm?”

He has been living in a halfway house since he was released June 30.

“I went from middle-aged millionaire to penniless bum!” he told the magazine.

NYC Child Killer Released After 15 Years

New York Times/June 30, 2004

Pine City, N.Y. — Infamous child killer Joel Steinberg was released from prison Wednesday after 15 years behind bars for the 1987 beating death of his 6-year-old adopted daughter.

The former lawyer, now 63, served two-thirds of the maximum 25-year manslaughter sentence. He has continued to deny responsibility for the girl’s death.

Steinberg left the upstate prison with $104 in earnings from his inmate account and was picked up in a limousine by defense attorney Darnay Hoffmann.

Lisa Steinberg died in November 1987, three days after a vicious beating in the Greenwich Village apartment where she lived with Steinberg and his former lover, Hedda Nussbaum.

Nussbaum called police after finding the 6-year-old naked, bruised and not breathing. Nussbaum, initially a co-defendant, herself had a split lip, broken ribs, a broken nose and a fractured jaw she said were inflicted by Steinberg.

According to Nussbaum’s testimony, Steinberg struck Lisa for staring at him, then ignored her injuries and smoked cocaine.

Nussbaum, now 59, who said she would flee New York rather than face Steinberg again, has quit her job at a domestic violence center, the Journal News reported Wednesday. Her small white house in Carmel was empty Tuesday.

Hoffmann has said he offered Steinberg a free apartment and a $250-a-week job with a local cable television show. Steinberg will have to make regular visits to a parole officer through October 2012. Now disbarred, he worked in prison as a paralegal.

‘I thought everything was my fault’

The Star Press/June 18, 2004
By Ric Routledge

That first-grader staring out the window at school might not be daydreaming. Instead, he might be thinking about what he saw at home last night – Daddy beating the hell out of Mommy.

Maybe he saw Mommy being taken away in an ambulance and Daddy in a squad car, which means he’s without both parents.

“This happens more often than people will ever, ever know,” said Alice, a former abuse victim in her 40s who lives in Blackford County and asked that her real name not be used. “They [victims] keep their mouths shut because they are scared, absolutely terrified. Or they have nowhere to go, or they think that no one will ever believe them.”

Just why some men, and even a few women, physically and verbally abuse their mates, supposedly their loved ones, is still being debated. But there is no argument that domestic violence is prevalent in our society.[h4]Low self-esteem

More than 3 million children are at risk of exposure to parental violence each year, according statistics provided by, and the violence knows no boundaries.

“We as a society think people with more education and wealth would be immune from this,” said Bud Edwards, a counselor at Ball State University. “But there is no respect to class or race. We find the phenomenon across most demographics in this country.”

Why men beat up their wives, and why a woman would stay in such a situation is subject to speculation more than science.

“As best we understand it, some factors are similar,” Edwards said. “Men with a low self-esteem, and ill equipped to maintain an equal relationship, may have a need to have power in order to make themselves feel good.” They are often jealous and control freaks, he added.

“The need for control usually comes from how they get their self-esteem,” Edwards said, “They assure themselves they can maintain a relationship and have an air of superiority that they know what is best for their partner. And if her self-esteem is low enough, she may believe him.”

Women stay in abusive relationships, according to Edwards, also because of low self-esteem.

“She believes that she couldn’t make it on her own when, in reality, she probably could.”

Finances are another big reason why women stay, especially if children are involved. He might be the sole provider and she can’t see how she could possibly make it financially without him.

“They brainwash you,” said Alice, who still fears the man she divorced years ago. “They literally control you, they make constant threats. I ended up having a nervous breakdown and looking like the crazy person. I wasn’t but he had taken me to where I couldn’t go any further.

“It got so I’d rather he hit me than take the verbal abuse,” she said. “You can recover from the bruises but you don’t recover from the verbal abuse. God, I hate to think about what it’s done to the kids.”

Taking the blame

Alice said that for years she thought she was to blame for all of their problems.

“I thought everything was my fault,” she said. “If he had run over somebody while drunk I would’ve thought it was my fault because I should have tried harder. He always said everything was my fault, and I believed him.

“You think maybe it’s not real, or that he’s going to change, or that it’s going to get better the next day. I kept thinking that if I was a good wife he would be different.

“But it didn’t matter what I did, I know now, because it made him feel superior.”

For former victim Betty, domestic abuse is something she’s known since childhood.

“I heard my parents fight when I was a kid,” said Betty, who also asked that her real name not be used. “I thought she [Mom] had it coming because she was pretty hard to take. When I encountered it years later, I assumed that I had it coming. If I thought she deserved it, then I did, too.”

This happened to Betty during her four-year marriage to a Ph.D. while she was working on a master’s degree. That was 30 years ago and the Delaware County resident still hasn’t remarried.

“I don’t fit any of the stereotypes. That’s why I wanted to tell my story,” Betty said. “He was a heavy hitter in terms of intellect, very successful. I was 35 when I married him, not exactly a baby.”

Warning signs

Both women said they were fooled by their men when they were dating.

“In the beginning he was so nice,” Alice said. “He had me meet his mom and dad. I thought he was great. He was sweet and loving – and a monster.”

“He was the perfect gentleman when we were dating,” Betty said about her former husband. “Sophisticated, had a Shakespearean aura about him.”

Signals that someone might be an abuser often aren’t apparent at first, Ball State counselor Edwards agreed.

“It’s hard to see these things coming,” Edwards said. “It may be that some of these things aren’t in place yet, especially if you marry young, or if life circumstances change inside the abuser.”

But there are warning signs.

“Look for people who struggle with controlling their emotions, especially anger, and have a history of violence,” Edwards said.

“How does this person treat other women in his life? Sometimes it’s gender-specific, which is why other guys wouldn’t see it.”

Domestic violence has remained hidden for a long time, according to Edwards. “We still have a ways to go to academically address this less desirable piece of our culture.”

“It’s time people wake up,” Alice said. “Your daughter could be in a bad situation or your son could be doing it to someone.”

Hedda: I’ll Flee Once Evil Joel Gets Sprung

NY Post/May 23, 2004
By Marianne Garvey

Hedda Nussbaum – the ex-lover of infamous child killer and abuser Joel Steinberg – will go into hiding when he’s released from prison within weeks.

After serving 16 years at an upstate prison, Steinberg, now 62, will walk free – but Nussbaum told The Post she can never forget her past life or the brutal slaying of their illegally adopted 6-year-old daughter, Lisa Steinberg.

Nussbaum, now 61, who was in a relationship with Steinberg for 12 years, said she will move in two weeks to “someplace warm in America” because she feels there’s a “very good chance” he will attempt to contact her.

“I’m not his puppet any longer and I’m taking precautions against him finding me,” Nussbaum said.

For the past six years, she’s worked as a paralegal at My Sister’s Place in White Plains, and wrote letters and petitions opposing his release.

Steinberg’s brutal abuse shocked the nation in November of 1987.

The former lawyer, who lived with Nussbaum and little Lisa in Greenwich Village, regularly beat the two and knocked Lisa unconscious, killing her after one beating because he claimed she was “staring” at him.

Nussbaum also suffered from Joel’s abuse regularly and has had plastic surgery to mend her nose, which he broke five times during severe beatings.

During the height of the scandal, Nussbaum was accused of being a co-conspirator in Lisa’s death, but was granted immunity in return for her testimony against Steinberg.

“Ten months prior to the trial in 1988, I was an inpatient at Four Winds hospital in Westchester, getting ready to testify,” Nussbaum said. “I was to have no contact with Joel whatsoever – and haven’t ever since.”

In December 1988, Nussbaum took the stand to testify against Steinberg.

Steinberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to eight to 25 years. He will be sprung June 30 from the Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County, due to a good behavior record.

Prison officials said Steinberg was rejecting requests to be interviewed before his release.

Nussbaum says she still refers to herself as Lisa’s mother and remembers her every day.

Once in a while, she visits Lisa’s grave at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester. A painting by Lisa hangs in her office.

“It leaves a hole in my heart, missing Lisa,” Nussbaum said. “She’d be 23 years old today, but she’ll always be a little girl to me.”

In addition to Lisa, Steinberg and Nussbaum also had an adopted son, Mitchell, who was taken away and reunited with his birth mother after Steinberg’s arrest.

“I miss Mitchell very much but his birth mother is against me having a relationship with him,” Nussbaum said. “I think about him every day.”

As for her past life with Steinberg, Nussbaum said she has no contact whatsoever with anyone who ever knew him and that she never plans to.

“One condition of his parole is that he never try to contact me,” she said.

“I want nothing to do with him. He might try to get in touch with me, but I’m not listed [in the phone book] and no one knows where I’m going except my family.”

‘An Abuse Thing’

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


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.

KING: Yes.

NUSSBAUM: And at that point…


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.


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…


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…

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.



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?



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…


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?


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.


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.




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.


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?

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.”


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.


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.




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: 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?



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.


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.



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.


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.

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/


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.

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?