After 17 years, the monster walks free

 

Joel Steinberg enters halfway house

Earlier story: After 17 years, monster is free

Convicted child-killer Joel Steinberg, spurned by his new neighbors and chased by a media horde, stumbled to freedom Wednesday, July 7, 2004, after nearly 17 years in jail for the beating death of his 6-year-old adopted daughter.

Steinberg, now 63, tripped and fell on the stairs leading to his new home as arrived in Manhattan for the first time since he was shipped upstate to serve his time in March 1989.

The disbarred attorney, who was released from an upstate facility earlier Wednesday, seemed shaken by the attention.

He offered no comment to reporters as he careened up the steps and into a building run by an inmates' rights group. Residents near the Riverside Drive address were not eager to see the man often described as a monster in their neighborhood.

“I don't want anything to do with him,” said Giselle Palo, 35, a fifth grade teacher. “When people in this neighborhood find out he's here, he's going to have a hard time.”

Picketers from a neighborhood group appeared shortly after Steinberg's return to the city. One waved a sign reading, “Get out criminal from our neighborhood.”

Steinberg spent the last 13 years at the Southport Correctional Facility outside Elmira. He had served two-thirds of the maximum 25-year manslaughter sentence and the state was required to release him. He has continued to deny responsibility for the girl's death.

Steinberg left the upstate prison with $104 in earnings from his inmate account, wearing state-issued denim jeans, a white shirt and sneakers.

Defense attorney Darnay Hoffmann picked him up in a white stretch limousine in Pine City, 179 miles west of New York City. A half-dozen cars with reporters followed. One had briefly blocked the limousine as photographers took pictures of it. Steinberg was moved to a different car shortly before arriving at the Manhattan residence.

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.

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

Nussbaum, now 59, quit her job at My Sister's Place, a domestic violence center in White Plains, on Friday, Executive Director Julie Domonkos said Wednesday.

She had promised to flee New York rather than face Steinberg. The Journal News reported that Nussbaum's small white house in Carmel was empty on Tuesday.

Hoffmann has said he offered Steinberg a $250-a-week job with a local cable television show.

After 17 years, monster's free

BY JOE MAHONEY and TRACY CONNOR
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Child-killer Joel Steinberg, one of the nation's most despised criminals, will walk free from prison today and resume his life in New York.

Under the terms of his parole, the 63-year-old disbarred lawyer must live and work in the metropolitan area, but experts said he may find freedom as difficult as doing hard time.

"He is a truly hated figure, and he is going to run into significant obstacles," said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, an inmate advocacy group.

The coke-snorting control freak battered his girlfriend, Hedda Nussbaum, beyond recognition and beat to death his 6-year-old adopted daughter, Lisa.

Steinberg spent nearly 17 years behind bars for manslaughter - still one of the most notorious crimes in the city's history.

Many people, including his victims' families, deem that punishment insufficient.

"There could be people who will try to provoke him or harass him because they're upset he has been released after committing such a horrible crime," Gangi said.

After being denied parole five times since 1996, Steinberg will be freed from the Southport Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup in Elmira, before 10 a.m. today.

The state will give him jeans, a light-brown sweatshirt, sneakers and $40 in bus fare - which he won't need because he's getting a ride to Manhattan.

He also will get the $104 left in his inmate account, which he earned from his $21.70-a-week gig as a jailhouse paralegal, officials said.

The state is not releasing any details about his residence or job.

A scandal-peddling TV show called "New York Confidential" has offered Steinberg $250 a week to be an intern, but he has not said whether he wants the job.

"He'd get coffee, hold scripts, that kind of thing," said show spokesman James Edstrom. "If he did well, he could move up."

In addition to working, Steinberg must attend anger-management classes and drug counseling as special conditions of his release.

He will be subject to a 9 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew and a long list of banned activities, including contact with children, drinking, using the Internet and driving.

He must stay away from Nussbaum, who testified at Steinberg's trial about the vicious beatings he gave her and has gone underground in recent days.

Steinberg also is barred from contacting his adopted son, Travis Smigiel, formerly known as Mitchell, who was returned to his birth mother after Lisa's death.

Smigiel's grandmother, Graceann Lamberta, said her family is angry Steinberg "maxed out" of prison after serving two-thirds of a 25-year sentence.

But they take comfort in the fact that Lisa's death shined a light on child abuse and showed it could happen anywhere - even in a wealthy lawyer's apartment in Greenwich Village.

"This is the case that did it," Lamberta said. "No longer did people think this was just a problem involving poor people."



Originally published on June 30, 2004

 

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