A Question Hangs Over a Trial: Why Did a Nanny Kill 2 Children in Her Care?

It has been five years since Marina Krim opened her bathroom door to a scene of unspeakable horror. Her two children, ages 2 and 6, lay in the bathtub, stabbed to death. The nanny she had trusted for two years to watch over them stood nearby with a knife, which she proceeded to plunge into her own neck.

The nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, 55, had slaughtered the two children in her care in the family’s Upper West Side apartment while Ms. Krim was out picking up a third child from a swimming lesson.

But the question that has haunted Ms. Krim and her husband, Kevin, as well as innumerable other New York parents who must rely on others for child care, from babysitters to au pairs, is why did Ms. Ortega do it?

Ms. Ortega survived her own self-inflicted wounds and in November 2012 was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder. Her trial was delayed repeatedly as her lawyer laid the groundwork for an insanity defense and sought to suppress the statements she made to the authorities while delirious in a hospital.

This week, a jury will finally be selected in Manhattan to hear evidence against Ms. Ortega. From a practical and legal standpoint, the only question the trial in State Supreme Court will answer is whether Ms. Ortega spends the rest of her days in a prison or in a mental hospital.

Still, over the course of three months of testimony, the public may finally learn if Ms. Ortega had a mental illness that might explain the atrocity, or if her motive was simple anger at being asked to work too hard, as prosecutors have asserted.

The trial promises to be a contest between psychiatric experts for the prosecution and the defense, each interpreting Ms. Ortega’s medical records and their examinations of her in different ways.

Ms. Ortega has made about 90 court appearances since her arrest, and her case has been the subject of two lengthy pretrial hearings. Yet very little has come out so far in court about her medical history, and her defense lawyers have revealed almost nothing. Much of the court’s file, including the results of psychiatric examinations and descriptions of her medical history, remains under seal.

The only window into Ms. Ortega’s mental state came during a hearing in June 2013 on her competency to stand trial. Earlier that year two court-appointed psychiatrists had found her fit, which meant she understood the court proceedings and was rational enough to help in her own defense.

At the hearing, a psychiatrist for the defense, Dr. Karen Rosenbaum, testified Ms. Ortega had shown clear symptoms of psychosis in the weeks and months after the Oct. 25, 2012, murders. She claimed to have had hallucinations about being “touched by the devil” and seeing “giants fighting.”

“She also had been hearing voices, saying we’re going to kill a lot of people,” Dr. Rosenbaum said. “Multiple voices — male and female — addressing her, who she didn’t recognize.”

Dr. Myles Schneider, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital Center, testified for the prosecution, saying there were some indications that Ms. Ortega might be faking symptoms of psychosis. Nurses had noted, for instance, that Ms. Ortega claimed to be hearing voices, but did not seem to be responding to them, the doctor testified.

Dr. Rosenbaum said she had reviewed Ms. Ortega’s medical records and had interviewed her eight family members as well as neighbors. She determined Ms. Ortega had a mental crisis in 2008 in the Dominican Republic, becoming so uncommunicative and withdrawn that her family worried for her sanity.

Four years later, Ms. Ortega again demonstrated signs of delusional thinking in the United States. In 2012, she forbade her 17-year-old son to play baseball or listen to music and forced him to hide with her under a bed whenever a dog barked, Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Three days before the killings, Ms. Ortega went berserk in the kitchen of the apartment she shared with her sister, throwing pots and pans around, then claimed later she could not remember what happened.

That same day, Ms. Ortega saw a Manhattan psychologist, Thomas Caffrey, according to court papers. It remains unclear if she received a diagnosis. A search of her apartment turned up only a bevy of creams and medications for skin problems, but nothing to treat a mental illness, court papers show.

Her bizarre behavior continued the day of the murders, Dr. Rosenbaum reported. Early that morning, Ms. Ortega knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked to come in to make breakfast. She then pleaded with a teenage girl in the apartment to come out of her room and sit with her. “I can’t be alone,” she said. “I’m afraid.”

That afternoon, Ms. Ortega was supposed to take two of the children — Leo, 2, and Lucia, 6 — to a dance studio, where they were supposed to meet Ms. Krim and the middle child, Nessie, a 3-year-old.

But Ms. Ortega never showed up. She later told a detective she had taken the children to a park and bought them ice cream instead. A neighbor saw them return to the Krims’ building at 57 West 75th Street at about 5 p.m. The children looked happy, but Ms. Ortega was sullen, the neighbor said. Within a half-hour, the children were dead.

A month later two psychiatrists at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital diagnosed her as having a “major depressive disorder with psychotic features,” court papers show.

Dr. Rosenbaum said that during examinations Ms. Ortega claimed she could not remember killing the Krim children. The former nanny said something similar in a jailhouse interview with a reporter from the Daily News. “I didn’t do that,” she said. “Someone else did.”

In the end, Justice Gregory Carro sided with the district attorney, ruling in August 2013 that he found “clear and convincing evidence that this defendant is fit.” Since then, Ms. Ortega has been subjected to extensive psychiatric tests and examinations by forensic experts for both sides, who have prepared reports on her mental state.

New York law has a high bar for insanity defenses. To win an acquittal, Ms. Ortega’s lawyers must prove she did not know right from wrong or understand the consequences of her actions at the time she committed the murders.

That is often a tricky judgment for jurors to make since a defendant could have a serious mental illness yet still have a moral understanding of what she was doing.

For about 30 years, Ms. Ortega, a native of the Dominican Republic, had lived with her sister in a six-story building at 610 Riverside Drive in Upper Manhattan, neighbors said. Before the nanny job, she had worked in factories and as a cleaning lady. Her sister drove a taxi.

When Ms. Ortega first went to work for the Krims in 2011, she told friends that she loved the job. She seemed to have developed a close relationship with the couple. She was proud of an Ann Taylor jacket the Krims had given her as a gift, and the family visited her and her relatives in the Dominican Republic.

The money the job paid also allowed her to move out of her sister’s apartment. She seemed happy when she found a new place in the Bronx for herself and her son, renting the apartment of a friend who moved back to the Caribbean, friends said.

But things began to go badly for her in the months leading up to the murders. She lost the sublet in the Bronx when the original tenant returned and threw her out, and had to move back in with her sister. Neighbors said she looked harried and complained often about being tired and working too hard. She sought help from a psychologist, the police said.

In the days after the killings, Ms. Ortega made statements at a hospital to the police officers guarding her. Detectives and prosecutors also sought to interview her as soon as she became conscious.

After a hearing, Justice Carro threw out the statements she made to prosecutors, ruling that Ms. Ortega was too delirious and drugged to be able to waive her right to remain silent. He also said the prosecutors should have allowed her attorney to be present. Still, he ruled he will allow the jury to hear spontaneous statements she made to officers.

Those statements were made when Ms. Ortega could barely talk after surgery to repair the damage to her neck. Some of them were made with the help of an alphabet chart.

Yet taken together, they paint the picture of a deeply unhappy employee. Two days after the murders, she told a police officer at her bedside that the cleaning products she used had hurt her skin. She complained she had been hired as a babysitter, but Ms. Krim asked her to do five hours of cleaning work a week.

A few days later, she told a detectives she was mad at the Krims because she worked very hard and did not make enough money. Later, on Nov. 2, 2012, she seemed filled with remorse when she said to Officer Delilah Solis: “Oh, my God. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”

Original Article The New York Times


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