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Release set today for man convicted of 1987 killing of child

NEW YORK -- The simple stone marker carries a heartbreaking message from a mother to the daughter she never knew.

"If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane," it reads, "I'd walk right up to heaven and bring you home again."

Beneath the sad epitaph lies a girl named Lisa, who died at age 6, three days after a vicious 1987 beating in a Greenwich Village apartment where violence was part of the daily routine.

Today, Lisa's killer -- her adoptive father -- is being released from prison.

Joel Steinberg, now 63, will exit the Southport Correctional Facility with his public perception as a monster reinforced by his repeated denials of any role in Lisa's death. He was accused of beating her for staring at him, and then ignoring her injuries. But according to Steinberg, he shared a unique, loving relationship with the girl -- an assertion that led to five rejections by the parole board.

The case drew national attention, pushing societal hot buttons for adoption fraud, child abuse, and spousal abuse.

"A lot of people are not happy with the fact he's getting out," said Steinberg's lawyer, Darnay Hoffman. "But he has done the time."

Steinberg's former lover, Hedda Nussbaum, recently announced she would flee New York rather than face him again. Initially his codefendant in Lisa's death, she became a key prosecution witness after detailing how Steinberg had beaten her so badly she was unrecognizable.

Steinberg will have served two-thirds of his maximum 25-year manslaughter sentence.

After Lisa's death, child abuse hot lines sprang up nationwide.

Lisa's birth mother, Michelle Launders, wouldn't discuss Steinberg's release.

The case defied many stereotypes about child abuse. This was a middle-class family, a lawyer and a book editor raising two children in a historic brownstone where Mark Twain once resided.

Nussbaum called 911 on Nov. 2, 1987, to report her daughter had vomited after choking on food. Lisa was naked, bruised, and not breathing. Her feet were black with dirt so thick it was later scraped off. Her adopted 17-month-old brother was tethered to a nearby playpen, surrounded by his own excrement and drinking spoiled milk.

Nussbaum had a split lip, broken ribs, a broken nose, and a fractured jaw -- all inflicted by Steinberg.

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