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Defense Lawyer Says Steinberg Judge ‘Tied Both My Hands’

January 5, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Joel Steinberg’s lawyer says a judge’s rulings have tied his hands and made an acquittal in the infamous murder trial nearly impossible.

The lawyer, Ira London, said Wednesday the best he can hope for is a conviction of criminally negligent homicide. Steinberg is charged with second- degree murder in the beating death of his illegally adopted daughter, Lisa.

The defense was scheduled to resume its case today by calling teachers from the school where Lisa was a first-grader. They were expected to testify that the 6-year-old child appeared healthy, happy and well cared for.

London said two rulings by Judge Harold Rothwax were major setbacks: allowing the jury to see a videotape of Steinberg’s battered live-in companion Hedda Nussbaum, and approving a request to have Steinberg examined by a prosecution psychiatrist.

″My view of the case is that the judge has tied both my hands behind my back,″ London said. ″He tied one hand when he let in the Hedda beatings; he tied the other when he took away Joel’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.″

Rothwax had no comment on London’s remarks.

Ms. Nussbaum, 46, testified for seven days as a prosecution witness. She had been charged with murder in Lisa’s death along with Steinberg but the charges were dropped.

Criminally negligent homicide carries a penalty of up to four years in prison. London said Steinberg ″won’t like″ his prediction.

″He wants an acquittal but I don’t think that’s realistic,″ London said. ″He’ll probably do jail time.″

Arnold Kleinick, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers’ Association, called London’s comments during a trial ″unusual. I never heard a lawyer say such a thing.″

Stephen Villers, a law professor at New York University, said he also had never heard a defense lawyer in a prominent murder case make such a concession, which he termed ″inappropriate.″

London’s co-counsel, Adrian DiLuzio, pointed out that ″We haven’t thrown in the towel at all. We’re pursuing this case vigorously.″

In granting the prosecution’s request to have one of its psychiatrists examine Steinberg, Rothwax said the defense appeared to be presenting an insanity defense even though they were not saying so.

By allowing the examination, the judge gives the prosecution a chance to rebut an insanity defense.

Steinberg may refuse to be examined by the prosecution psychiatrist, but then the judge may tell the jury the defense has presented an insanity case and they should consider whether Steinberg, in effect, has something to hide.

″There is nothing in this case other than Hedda that says Joel committed this crime,″ DiLuzio said. ″The prosecution’s whole case lies in the lap of Hedda and we think the jury will find that Hedda is not a credible witness.″

DiLuzio said he believes that at this point ″the best course of action is for him to submit to the exam.″

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