Joel Steinberg Trial: 1988-89
A Deadly Relationship
The trial opened October 25, 1988, before Judge Harold Rothwax. In what promised to be an emotional hearing, a cool head on the bench was essential, and Judge Rothwax had a reputation as a jurist of unflappable demeanor. He presided over a courtroom packed with spectators and members of the media. In his opening address, Assistant District Attorney Peter Casolaro made it clear that he would be picking apart the relationship between Steinberg and Nussbaum piece by piece. By this means he hoped to convince the jury of Steinberg's guilt. But first there was the medical evidence.
Dr. Douglas Miller, a New York pathologist, told the court that Lisa had died from a brain hemorrhage caused by a blow to her right temple. He also described two other severe blows. All three, in his opinion, were administered by a large, strong person. Every eye in court fell on the powerfully built Steinberg. He remained impassive. A videotape of Nussbaum, filmed by police on the night of her arrest, showed a battered, frail woman, barely able to walk, let alone capable of beating anyone to death.
Other witnesses testified to the tragedy and traumas of Lisa's brief life, but only Hedda Nussbaum could provide the evidence that would convict Joel Steinberg. When she took the stand, the problem, as prosecutors saw it, was to build her credibility with the jury. For her testimony to be believed, she had to be presented as yet another of Steinberg's victims. Casolaro started off slowly, asking Nussbaum to describe her feelings towards her former lover.
"I thought he was probably the most wonderful man I'd ever met."
"What qualities was it that attracted you to him, Miss Nussbaum?"
"Well, he seemed to be extremely intelligent and bright, and I loved to hear him talk for hours."