New York (AFP) – A New York court saw scenes of anguish Thursday when a mother tearfully confronted the nanny who stabbed to death two of her young children in a bloody frenzy nearly six years ago.
Yoselyn Ortega in the dock for murder for killing Lucia, six, and Leo, two, with a kitchen knife in the bathroom of their Upper West Side apartment on October 25, 2012. Ortega, 55, does not deny the killings, but is pleading insanity.
It was a case that terrified working parents all over the world and went on to inspire a best-selling novel that explored the relationship between a working mother and the woman she hires to look after her young children.
“I need to take a good look at you,” said Marina Krim, 41, the children’s mother, who took the stand as the prosecution’s first witness and addressed Ortega.
“You are a liar,” she said. “You are disgusting.”
Krim found her children dead in the bath after rushing home in a panic with her third child Nessie after discovering Ortega had not taken Lucia to her dance class as planned. Her husband Kevin, a high-flying executive, was away on business at the time.
Ortega took the knife to her throat in an apparent suicide attempt after Krim came home. Lucia had sustained about 30 slashes to the body and neck, showing that she had tried to fight back.
On Thursday, the Dominican-born woman who killed her sat silently in court wearing a grey pullover with a brown headband over her long brown hair.
Ortega “brutally butchered the children” and there was “overwhelming evidence that she planned these murders and executed them at a time she knew she would not be interrupted,” New York prosecutor Courtney Groves told jurors.
The defense said Ortega acted in a moment of madness.
The defendant, said lawyer Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, suffered from “chronic mental illness” — had heard voices since she was 16 years old and suffered from depressive disorders, psychotic thinking and hallucinations that had gone largely untreated.
– ‘$500 a week’ –
From opposing worlds — the Krims a wealthy family who relocated from California and Ortega a working class woman who left her own child in the Dominican Republic to seek work in the United States — they had outwardly gotten along well.
Krim testified that Ortega came recommended by her own sister, had a solid reference and “asked for $18 an hour and $500 a week,” which the family happily accepted.
She told the court that she stopped working as a kindergarten teacher to raise her own children and that her husband’s salary was enough to accord a comfortable life.
But after their third child was born, they hired Ortega to help ferry the children to ballet, swimming, art and their bilingual English-Spanish nursery, all typical trappings of an upper-middle-class Manhattan childhood.
Ortega seemed perfect for the job, she was never late, she was respectful and never even asked for a raise. The Krims paid for her to fly home on vacation to the Dominican Republican and even spent two days there with Ortega’s family.
In fact in two-and-a-half-years of employment, Krim remembers only “one real dispute.”
Thinking she was helping a cash-strapped Ortega earn more money, she suggested she did a couple of extra hours of housework for one of her friends, but said Ortega had behaved improperly with the friend.
The prosecutor said it would never be known why Ortega killed the children, suggesting that she may have been stressed by her son’s arrival, the loss of her own apartment and boiled over with resentment about working for the Krims.
Ortega’s son had joined her aged 17. When she first worked for the Krims, she lived in her own apartment in the Bronx, but was later forced to move in with her sister.
The killings served as the inspiration for “Chanson Douce” — a best-selling novel that earned author Leila Slimani France’s top literary prize, the Goncourt, in 2016.
The novel, set in Paris, was translated as “Lullaby” in Britain and in the United States as “The Perfect Nanny,” where it was less commercially successful than in Europe.
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