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Manhattan Nanny Is Convicted in Murders of Two Children

NEW YORK — A former nanny who killed two children in her care was found guilty Wednesday of murder, after a Manhattan jury rejected her claim that she was too mentally ill to understand her actions or know they were wrong.

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Manhattan Nanny Is Convicted in Murders of Two Children
JAN RANSOM, New York Times

NEW YORK — A former nanny who killed two children in her care was found guilty Wednesday of murder, after a Manhattan jury rejected her claim that she was too mentally ill to understand her actions or know they were wrong.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for two days before walking into Part 32 of state Supreme Court in Manhattan and delivering a verdict shortly after 4 p.m.

The nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, 55, of Upper Manhattan, faces life in prison when she is sentenced.

Ortega sat motionless as the verdicts were read: guilty of first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder.

One of the jurors took off his glasses and wiped the tears pouring down his cheeks.

In the front row, the children’s father, Kevin Krim, hung his head, shook and rocked back and forth. He was sitting beside two alternate jurors who had been released before deliberations, and they all appeared to weep.

The case, a slice of could-happen-to-anyone horror, sent shock waves through the city and cast a spotlight on the decisions — often informed by word of mouth — that New Yorkers from all walks of life make every day when they leave their children in the care of others.

Ortega never disputed that she killed Leo Krim, 2, and his sister Lucia, 6, in the bathroom of their family’s Upper West Side apartment on Oct. 25, 2012.

The children’s mother, Marina Krim, with her middle child in tow, came home around 5:30 p.m. and discovered the two children lying lifeless in the tub, stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife, with Ortega standing near them. As Krim opened the bathroom door, Ortega stabbed herself in the neck.

Prosecutors argued that Ortega intended to kill the children, then commit suicide, because she was depressed and angry at Krim over her workload and schedule.

The defense, however, said that Ortega was severely mentally ill and heard voices, including Satan’s, telling her to kill the children. Her lawyer, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, presented evidence that Ortega had experienced delusions and hallucinations since she was a teenager in the Dominican Republic but that her psychosis had gone untreated and undiagnosed until after her arrest.

Jurors heard from mental-health experts on both sides, who arrived at different conclusions about Ortega’s state of mind at the time of the killings.

Two psychiatrists for the defense, Karen B. Rosenbaum and Phillip J. Resnick, said that Ortega was in the grip of a psychotic break so severe that she did not understand her actions or know they were wrong. After interviewing her family members and scouring her medical records, they came to the conclusion that she had been overcome by voices in her head — one of which she thought belonged to Satan — in the weeks before the murders. She could not even remember the gruesome killings, they said.

But a forensic psychologist for the prosecution, Ali Khadivi, testified that while Ortega suffered from anxiety and depression, she was not psychotic. He determined that she was not experiencing paranoia, delusions or any break from reality the day of the killings. To buttress his conclusion, prosecutors showed a 2016 videotape on which Ortega repeatedly denied to Khadivi that she heard voices commanding her to kill the children, contradicting what she had told defense psychiatrists several months after the killings.

The prosecutors, Stuart Silberg and Courtney Groves, also focused on evidence suggesting that Ortega had planned the murders. That day, she had left a purse containing her valuables, identification cards and keepsakes for her son and an envelope of important personal documents for her sister Delci Ortega. She had also recently pleaded with Delci to take care of her teenage son and “raise him well.”

Van Leer-Greenberg, however, noted that Ortega had expressed to several family members how much she loved the Krim children, and suggested to jurors that the only possible explanation for such an atrocity was severe mental illness.

Jurors heard six weeks of testimony from 53 witnesses, including the wrenching accounts of Marina Krim, who described discovering the horrific scene in the bathroom, and her husband, who spoke of his deep anger that members of Ortega’s family had lied to him and his wife about Ortega’s qualifications and background. Both said they had noticed that Ortega was upset in the weeks before the murders but saw no indication she was losing her mind.

Before her arrest, Ortega had never been hospitalized for psychiatric problems; the only medical record regarding her mental health consisted of one page of notes from a psychologist she visited three days before the crime. The therapist, Thomas Caffrey, said he saw no signs of delusional or psychotic thinking. He determined she was suffering from depression and anxiety. “She didn’t tell me about any concerns about voices or visions,” he testified. Lacking medical records, the defense team relied on testimony from Ortega’s family members and friends to show that she had had two mental breakdowns in the Dominican Republic, one in 1978 after her young sister died and a second in 2008 after a close family friend committed suicide.

In both cases, she slipped into deep depression and refused to leave her family’s house, her sisters and friends said. In 1978, she received treatment from a doctor and recovered. During the second episode, witnesses said, she started expressing irrational fears about people coming to get her and returned to New York City.

Ortega’s siblings and other family members also testified that she appeared to be unraveling in the six months before the killings, crying frequently, asking people to pray for her and speaking of “shadows” and a “black man” following her and attempting to split up her family.

Her mental turmoil started when one of her sisters, Miladys Garcia, asked her to move out of the family’s apartment in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, the witnesses said. She moved to an apartment in the Bronx belonging to another relative and insisted that her teenage son, Jesus Frias, be sent from the Dominican Republic to live with her. She had left Frias with Garcia when he was 4 years old and had not raised him herself, except for an 18-month period around 2008.

Three days before the murders, she woke up in the middle of the night and started throwing pots and pans around the kitchen, then claimed later not to remember it, her sister Delci said.

Just four hours before the killings, Ortega visited a neighbor’s apartment and, agitated and pacing up and down, told a teenage woman staying there, Jennifer Reynosa, that she saw a “black shadow” that spoke to her. In more than a dozen interviews in the months after the murders, Ortega told Rosenbaum that she had been hearing voices, including Satan’s, telling her to kill herself and her employers’ children.

Prosecutors, however, focused on the statements Ortega made to Caffrey, the therapist, three days before the killings and to Dr. Marc Dubin, a psychiatrist who spoke to her 11 days after the horrific event as she was recovering from her neck wound at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.

In both interviews, Ortega complained about money trouble and expressed frustration with Marina Krim about her schedule and workload but did not mention hearing voices commanding her to kill.

She first reported hearing those voices over the next month as her health improved and her post-surgery delirium lifted. Her family members did not initially mention her psychotic symptoms to the police but did so in later conversations with Rosenbaum and Resnick.

In closing arguments, the lead prosecutor, Stuart Silberg, suggested that Ortega had made up stories about hearing commands from the devil to avoid a life sentence and that her relatives had invented stories about her delusions for similar reasons.

But Van Leer-Greenberg said that Ortega and her family members at first hid the symptoms of her disease because of the stigma attached to mental illness in the Dominican Republic.

She suggested that Ortega had lost the battle with the demonic voices in her head, experienced a break with reality and did not know what she was doing.

“Her mind and her body separated,” she said.

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