NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York nanny who stabbed to death two of her charges after hallucinating that a devil told her “to kill the children and herself” should be found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, her lawyer told a jury on Monday.
Yoselyn Ortega, 55, was suffering from “command hallucinations” in 2012 when she repeatedly plunged a kitchen knife into Lucia Krim, 6, nicknamed Lulu, and her brother Leo, 2, at their New York luxury apartment, her attorney Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg said in her closing argument at state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
“She who is fighting demons could not see to it that she did not become a demon,” Van Leer-Greenberg told jurors.
Mental health experts called as defense witnesses testified that Ortega was mentally incapable of having an intent to kill and was too psychotic to understand her actions. The defense maintains that Ortega has long suffered from depression, psychotic thinking and hallucinations.
If she is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Ortega could spend the rest of her life in a psychiatric facility.
Any semblance of normalcy, argued Van Leer-Greenberg, simply masked her long descent into madness.
“The tumble into mental illness, to the outside world, can sometimes look like no change at all,” Van Leer-Greenberg said. “Sometimes it (rears) up and nestles deep before anyone else takes notice.”
During the nearly two-month trial, prosecutors called witnesses to support their argument that Ortega was far more calculating, and that she stabbed the children out of resentment for their mother, Marina Krim, and anger over being asked to work too hard. Prosecutors, set to deliver their closing arguments later on Monday, contend Ortega should be found guilty of two counts each of first- and second-degree murder, punishable by a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
On Oct. 25, 2012, Krim returned to the family’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and found her children’s bloody bodies in the bathtub and Ortega standing over them, plunging a knife into her own neck.
Krim said she returned home with the children’s then 3-year-old sister, Nessie, after Ortega failed to appear with the other children at Lulu’s dance lesson.
Ortega had recently brought her then 17-year-old son, Jesus Frias, 17, from the Dominican Republic and enrolled him in a private school so he did not have to repeat 11th grade, prosecutors said. She was overwhelmed by financial concerns and tuition costs.
Writing by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis