A former nanny who fatally stabbed two small children in her care planned and carried out the atrocity to inflict emotional pain on their mother, whom she resented, a prosecutor told a jury during summations at the woman’s murder trial on Monday.
“Her intention was to take her own life after she killed the children,” he added. “It was never her intention to sit in this courtroom with a jury holding her responsible.”
The nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, contends that she is not criminally responsible for the gruesome killings on Oct. 25, 2012, because her mind was clouded by a psychosis so severe that she did not understand her actions. She maintains she cannot remember killing the children.
Yet Silberg said Ortega took steps suggesting she had planned the murders and never intended to return home that day. She left a bag full of family heirlooms for her teenage son to find, as well as an envelope full of important papers for her sister, Delci Ortega. A day earlier, she also had asked the same sister to take care of her son and “raise him well.”
In her summation, Ortega’s lawyer, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, argued that Ortega had been experiencing paranoid delusions and hallucinations, as well as bouts of severe depression, going back to 1978. She had never been treated, however, and hid her symptoms from her employers and all but her closest family members.
In the weeks before the murder, Ortega had been hearing voices, including one she thought was Satan’s, commanding her to kill the children, Van Leer-Greenberg said. Several family members and friends testified that Ortega’s behavior became more and more bizarre during that period: She complained of shadows following her, cried frequently and spoke cryptically of a “black man” who was trying to split up her family.
“She was coming apart at the seams,” Van Leer-Greenberg said. “It was getting more chaotic in her head. The voices were overtaking her. Then on Oct. 25, 2012, she capitulated.”
Two psychiatrists for the defense testified that Ortega was psychotic at the time of the murders and had a break with reality, entering what they called “a dissociative state.”
“Her mind and her body separated metaphysically,” Van Leer-Greenberg said. “That is what the evidence has shown.”
But Silberg pointed out that when Ortega woke in the hospital days later, after being treated for a self-inflicted neck wound, she had a litany of petty complaints about her working conditions, but never asked about the children. “She didn’t have to ask,” he said. “She knew what had happened to them.”
Ortega, 55, never disputed that she had killed Leo Krim, 2, and his sister, Lucia, 6, using two kitchen knives. Their mother, Marina Krim, arrived home at about 5:30 p.m., with her third child in tow, after Ortega had failed to show up with Lucia at a ballet class. Krim opened the bathroom door to find her other two children lying bloodied and lifeless in the tub. Ortega was standing nearby and jammed a knife into her own throat.
“She put the children in the tub knowing Marina was going to open that door and see them,” Silberg told the jury. “It was about hurting Marina in the worst possible way you can hurt Marina, or any mother.”
To be found not responsible by reason of mental disease of defect, Ortega must prove she had a mental illness that prevented her from grasping the nature and consequences of her actions or from knowing they were wrong.
The defense’s case during the six-week trial centered on expert testimony from two psychiatrists, Karen Rosenbaum and Phillip J. Resnick, who determined Ortega suffered from an undiagnosed psychosis for decades.
Ortega’s lawyer also called as witnesses eight of the defendant’s family members and friends, who described Ortega’s past mental breakdowns in 1978 and 2008, when she became a paranoid shut-in after people close to her died. Her family members also described her crying fits, nervousness and paranoia about “shadows” following her in the days before the killings.
Van Leer-Greenberg pointed out that four psychiatrists at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where Ortega was treated for her neck wound, came to the conclusion that she had symptoms of psychosis, a diagnosis later confirmed by doctors at Elmhurst Hospital Center.
Yet Silberg argued that Ortega’s sisters, Delci Ortega and Miladys Garcia, came forward with information about Ortega’s past symptoms of mental illness only after speaking with her defense lawyers months after the killings. “All the stories that were told to you by Delci Ortega and Miladys were made up,” he told the jury. “Those are the witnesses the defense wants you to believe.”
Van Leer-Greenberg argued that the idea all of Ortega’s friends and family members — some of whom were subpoenaed to testify — were lying about her symptoms seemed far-fetched. “You have to believe these eight separate lay witnesses that have no background in psychiatry made up symptoms that were consistent with paranoid delusions, audio hallucinations, visual hallucinations, tactile hallucinations, major depressive disorder and dissociation,” she said.
She suggested insanity was the only explanation for the crime, since Ortega had repeatedly told her sisters and other relatives she loved the Krim children. “The lack of a motive is the hallmark of her mental illness,” she said.
Silberg reminded jurors that Kevin and Marina Krim had testified that they saw no sign Ortega was losing her mind. He also noted Ortega appeared to be managing her life without trouble, enrolling her son in a private high school, moving houses twice that year and handling her own finances.
Silberg suggested Ortega was simply furious with Marina Krim over her schedule and workload and planned to kill the children and herself to get back at her. “If she loved them, she wouldn’t have killed them,” he said. “The defendant’s rage and resentment reached a boiling point.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.