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Joel Steinberg (born May 25, 1941), a former New York criminal defense attorney, attracted international media attention when he was accused of murder and convicted of manslaughter in the November 1, 1987, death of a six-year-old girl, Elizabeth ("Lisa"), whom he and his live-in partner Hedda Nussbaum had illegally adopted. Steinberg had reportedly been hired by a single mother to locate a suitable adoptive family for Lisa, but instead took the child home and raised her with Nussbaum, never filing formal adoption papers.
Joel Steinberg was born in the Bronx. In 1962 he graduated from Fordham University. After graduation, Steinberg attended law school but dropped out and was commissioned in the US Air Force. Following his military career he finished law school and was admitted to the New York bar association without being required to take the bar exam through a special program for military veterans. 
Steinberg was specifically accused of hitting Lisa on the head and then not seeking medical attention for the child, supposedly because he was under the influence of crack cocaine. She died at St. Vincent Hospital after being removed from life support on November 4, 1987 three days later after being transported from the apartment in New York's Greenwich Village that Steinberg shared with Lisa, Mitchell (a younger child also adopted by Steinberg, 18 months old at the time of Lisa's death), and Steinberg's partner Hedda Nussbaum. Both the boy and Nussbaum showed signs of physical abuse, and Nussbaum's battered, unkempt appearance did much to fuel the media frenzy that accompanied the story of Lisa's death.
In exchange for her testimony against Steinberg, Nussbaum was not prosecuted for events related to Lisa's death (Nussbaum was alone in the apartment with an unconscious and bleeding Lisa for over ten hours without seeking any medical attention for the girl). At Steinberg's trial, his defense suggested that Nussbaum's extensive injuries, which included severe damage to the face and permanent spinal damage, resulted from a consensual sadomasochistic relationship between the two. Her attorneys claimed her remaining with him when he beat her was a sign of battered woman syndrome.
In New York State at that time, first degree murder applied only to those who killed police officers or had committed murder while already serving a sentence for a previous murder. Unable to convict Steinberg on the more serious charge of second-degree murder, the jury convicted him of the second most serious charge, first-degree manslaughter. The judge then sentenced him to the maximum penalty then available for that charge — 81⁄3 to 25 years in prison.
On two occasions, Steinberg was denied discretionary parole, mainly because he never expressed remorse for the killing. However, on June 30, 2004, he was paroled under the state's "good time" law, which mandates release of inmates who exhibit good behavior while incarcerated after having served as little as two-thirds of the maximum possible sentence. (New York State has since increased this ratio to six-sevenths of the maximum term for persons convicted of violent felonies.) Steinberg had spent most of his imprisonment at New York State's "Supermax" prison, the Southport Correctional Facility, presumably to prevent him from being attacked by other inmates.
Meanwhile, the other child in the case ended up being reunited with his biological mother, Nicole Bridget Smigiel.
On January 16, 2007, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (New York's intermediate appellate court) upheld a $15 million award against Steinberg to Michele Launders, Lisa's birth mother. In its opinion, the court rejected the position that Steinberg, acting as his own attorney, put forth:
The case was adapted with modifications as a 1990 Law & Order episode, "Indifference", which ended with a disclaimer that was read aloud pointing out the actual conclusion of the real case. Fourteen years later, in an episode entitled "Fixed," the program brought back the character inspired by Steinberg (Jacob Lowenstein) who was killed after being released on parole. The episode was inspired by Steinberg's actual release.