Was Nanny Insane When She Killed 2 Children? Jury Hears Closing Arguments



Yoselyn Ortega’s lawyers, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg and Evan Van Leer-Greenberg, leaving court last month. Ms. Van Leer-Greenberg argued that Ms. Ortega had experienced paranoid delusions and bouts of depression going back to 1978

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

“She did it intentionally with a full understanding of exactly what it was she was doing — every stab, every slash,” the lead prosecutor, Stuart Silberg, told a jury in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

“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 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 Mr. Silberg said Ms. 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, Ms. Ortega’s lawyer, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, argued Ms. 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, Ms. Ortega had been hearing voices, including one she thought was Satan’s, commanding her to kill the children, Ms. Van Leer-Greenberg said. Several family members and friends testified that Ms. 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,” Ms. 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 Ms. 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,” Ms. Van Leer-Greenberg said. “That is what the evidence has shown.”



Yoselyn Ortega during her trial last month. The jury heard closing arguments on Monday.

Pool photo by Jefferson Siegel

But Mr. Silberg pointed out that when Ms. 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.”

Ms. 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 Ms. Ortega had failed to show up with Lucia at a ballet class. Ms. Krim opened the bathroom door to find her other two children lying bloodied and lifeless in the tub. Ms. 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,” Mr. 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, Ms. 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 Ms. Ortega suffered from an undiagnosed psychosis for decades.

Ms. Ortega’s lawyer also called as witnesses eight of the defendant’s family members and friends, who described Ms. 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.

Ms. Van Leer-Greenberg pointed out that four psychiatrists at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where Ms. Ortega was treated for her neck wound, came to the conclusion she had symptoms of psychosis, a diagnosis later confirmed by doctors at Elmhurst Hospital Center.

Yet Mr. Silberg argued that Ms. Ortega’s sisters, Delci Ortega and Miladys Garcia, came forward with information about Ms. 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.”

Ms. Van Leer-Greenberg argued that the idea all of Ms. 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 Ms. 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.

Mr. Silberg reminded jurors that Kevin and Marina Krim had testified they saw no sign Ms. Ortega was losing her mind. He also noted Ms. 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.

Mr. Silberg suggested Ms. 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.”