Joel Steinberg got out of prison and returned to a hostile city Wednesday after nearly 17 years behind bars for beating to death his 6-year-old adopted daughter in one of the most haunting child abuse cases in New York history.

The former lawyer, now 63, was released from a prison in Pine City, in central New York, after serving two-thirds of the maximum 25-year sentence for manslaughter. He has continued to deny responsibility for the girl's death.

He had no comment as he rushed up the steps into a Manhattan apartment building run by an inmates' rights group.

Pickets from a neighborhood group appeared shortly after Steinberg's arrival. One waved a sign reading, "Get out criminal from our neighborhood."

"I don't want anything to do with him," said Giselle Palo, 35, a fifth-grade teacher. "When people in this neighborhood find out he's here, he's going to have a hard time."

The Daily News ran a photo of Steinberg on the front page Wednesday with the words: "Let him feel every New York eye burning straight through his rotten soul. Joel Steinberg doesn't like to be stared at. That rattles him. That's why he broke apart a little girl with his bare hands."

Lisa Steinberg died November 1987, three days after a vicious beating in the Greenwich Village apartment where she lived with Steinberg and his former lover, Hedda Nussbaum. The little girl was found naked, bruised and not breathing.

Nussbaum had a split lip, broken ribs, a broken nose and a fractured jaw, which she said were inflicted by Steinberg. She testified that Steinberg struck Lisa for staring at him, then ignored her injuries and smoked cocaine.

The case transfixed the city, defying many stereotypes about child abuse. This was a middle-class family, with a lawyer and a book editor rearing two children in a historic brownstone where Mark Twain once lived.

Nussbaum, 59, who said she would flee New York rather than face Steinberg again, quit her job Friday at a domestic violence center called My Sister's Place in White Plains, N.Y., said the center's executive director, Julie Domonkos.

Steinberg left prison with $104 in earnings from his inmate account and was picked up in a limousine by his attorney, Darnay Hoffman. He has said he offered Steinberg a free apartment and a $250-a-week job with a local cable television show. Steinberg will have to make regular visits to a parole officer until 2012.

Joel Steinberg, right, is escorted to a halfway house in Manhattan after his release from a prison in Pine City, N.Y., after serving 15 years for the beating death of his 6-year-old daughter.