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Battered woman sues ex-companion

Her face still disfigured and her nose still flattened because of the many times it had been broken, Hedda Nussbaum reappeared in a courtroom Wednesday.

In a case that riveted the nation, Nussbaum testified in 1988 against her companion, Joel Steinberg, in the fatal beating of Lisa, 6, whom they had illegally adopted.

Back then she seemed dazed and uncertain, recalling in a numbing monotone the psychological horror and physical abuse she said she and the girl had suffered.

Now, six years later, Nussbaum, 52, was in court again remembering the beatings, how she had loved Steinberg in spite of them and how she tried to learn to be a better person.

Appearing composed and confident this time, Nussbaum was testifying in a $3.6-million lawsuit she has filed against Steinberg for what she called the physical and emotional devastation of 12 years of repeated beatings.

Both Nussbaum and Steinberg were arrested for Lisa's death in 1987.

Nussbaum was freed after prosecutors determined she was so victimized by Steinberg that she was not capable of saving Lisa's life and they needed her as their main witness.

Lawyers for Steinberg, who is serving from 8 to 25 years in state prison for manslaughter in the case, contend that Nussbaum's suit was filed after the one-year statute of limitations had run out.

Nussbaum wants the limit waived, claiming she was so incapacitated that she was not capable of taking legal action for years.

"Our real intent is to send a message by having the court set a new precedent that will allow battered women to sue whenever they become mentally and physical able," said Nussbaum's lawyer, Betty Levinson.

Toward that end, Nussbaum spent the day in the witness chair recalling, sometimes tearfully, sometimes wistfully, her life with Steinberg. It was a courtroom text on the battered woman syndrome.