NEW YORK (AP) — The trusted nanny of a well-to-do Manhattan family planned and executed the most unthinkable of crimes, according to prosecutors: She waited until she was alone in the apartment, selected two knives from the kitchen and then led two of the children to the back bathroom where she slaughtered them.
A defense lawyer said the slayings were an act of madness. But prosecutors on Thursday argued Yoselyn Ortega planned to kill 2-year-old Leo Krim, and 6-year-old Lucia Krim, five years ago, and she knew exactly what she was doing.
“She knows that killing them was wrong,” Assistant District Attorney Courtney Groves said.
Groves took jurors hearing the case through the horror of the crime. Their mother, Marina, came home from swim class with their middle child to find the children, lifeless, stacked in the bathtub, their eyes opened and fixed. Ortega looked at Krim and plunged a knife into her neck.
Lucia, who went by Lulu, fought back and was slashed and stabbed about 30 times, but it only took her five to kill Leo. Their throats were cut so severely it appeared at first they’d been decapitated, Groves said.
“There was no way to save them,” she said. “The devastation the defendant had inflicted on their little bodies was too much.”
The central mystery of the trial isn’t whether Ortega killed the children, but why she did it — and whether she was too mentally ill to be held responsible. During openings Thursday, Ortega showed little emotion, staring straight ahead.
Groves said it’s possible Ortega’s resentment and jealousy of Marina Krim, coupled with an inability to provide for her own son, sent her into a calculated rage. But prosecutors conceded there isn’t a clear motive.
“You may believe you have not heard a satisfactory answer, because there just isn’t a satisfactory answer,” Groves said. “But not knowing why the defendant slaughtered Lucia and Leo Krim does not mean that she is not responsible for those actions or for those murders. It merely means there is no good answer.”
Prosecutors plan to present their own psychiatric experts who will say that Ortega understood the consequences of her actions. A judge has already declared the 55-year-old Ortega mentally fit to stand trial.
New York has a high bar for the insanity defense and it is rarely successful. To win, Ortega’s lawyers will have to prove that she didn’t understand the consequences of her actions and didn’t know right from wrong at the time.
Ortega had worked for the Krims for about two years, in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, a block from Central Park, and by some measures had a close relationship with her employers. Once, the family traveled together to the Dominican Republic to meet Ortega’s family.
Her defense attorney Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg said she suffered from severe, undiagnosed mental illness that was not taken seriously in her home country of the Dominican Republic. She said she heard voices, saw visions and that sometimes the voices commanded her to act.
But she was “guarded in her symptoms, reluctant to seek care,” Van Leer-Greenberg said.
“I will ask you to determine at the end of this case whether or not these acts were driven by my client’s acute psychotic state,” she told jurors.
A doctor who testified for the defense during pre-trial legal hearings said Ortega had serious delusions.
But police said that while she was in custody after the killings, Ortega gave interviews that paint a picture of an unhappy employee: She told authorities that she hurt the children because she was having money problems and was angry at the parents, prosecutors said. She said her schedule constantly shifted, she had to act as a cleaning lady though she didn’t want to.
“Oh, my God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done,” she said, according to the court papers. “Relieve me of my misery.”
The parents of the two slain children rarely speak publicly about the killings, but both are expected to testify and as such they didn’t attend openings.
Marina Krim and her husband Kevin Krim, a CNBC executive, use a Facebook page to post updates on how they are doing, writing about the arrival of two new children, Felix born in 2013 and Linus in 2016.
In the wake of the tragedy, the couple started the Lulu and Leo Fund that aims to support innovative art programs for children and they recently posted a video message on Facebook asking that people mention the fund as their case becomes news again.