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In tears and with anger, New York mother testifies against nanny accused of stabbing 2 young children to death

In tears and with anger, New York mother testifies against nanny accused of stabbing 2 young children to death
In this image from video, Yoselyn Ortega, who was a trusted nanny to a well-to-do family, listens to court proceedings Thursday, the first day of her trial in New York. (Associated Press)

The mother of two children brutally killed in an Upper West Side apartment more than five years ago strode into a Manhattan courtroom Thursday morning and angrily stared at the nanny accused in the deaths.

"I just need a good look, you guys," Marina Krim said. "Because she's a liar."

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Krim, 41, took a long look at her former nanny, 55-year-old Yoselyn Ortega, before beginning to testify about the months, days and hours leading up to the afternoon of Oct. 25, 2012, when her 6-year-old daughter, Lucia, and 2-year-old son, Leo, were found stabbed to death in their home, a block away from Central Park.

The case made national headlines at the time and stunned New Yorkers, not least the affluent residents of the Upper West Side neighborhood where the Krims lived — and where parents commonly employ nannies or send their children to day care.

Over several hours of searing testimony and cross-examination on the trial's opening day, Krim alternately sobbed in heaves, yelled at Ortega and her attorney, and giggled as she described her husband and children. She painted a picture of an idyllic life as a stay-at-home mom who had married the love of her life and whose children were the center of her world.

Krim, a native of Manhattan Beach, Calif., graduated from USC with a degree in education and met her husband at a restaurant in Venice, she said Thursday. The couple married in 2001, later moved to San Francisco, and in 2009 moved with their children, Lucia and Ines, and their greyhound to New York, where Kevin Krim worked as a media executive.

In 2010, when the Krims were expecting their third child, Leo, Marina Krim hired Ortega, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, to help on a part-time basis. Ortega helped manage drop-offs and pick-ups to and from the kids' dual-language school, ballet classes at a well-known performing arts center and swimming lessons at the local Jewish Community Center.

A blog Krim maintained at the time shows photos of the three kids on trips to the beach, sleeping next to toy cars, visiting puppies and a pumpkin patch, and eating birthday cupcakes.

Photos of Lucia and Leo Krim in an October 2012 memorial outside their building in New York.
Photos of Lucia and Leo Krim in an October 2012 memorial outside their building in New York. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

On the afternoon of Oct. 25, 2012, according to prosecutors, Ortega was supposed to drop Lucia off at ballet class and then return home with Leo, while Krim took 3-year-old Ines, nicknamed Nessie, to her swimming lesson. Krim then planned to pick Lucia up from ballet and return home.

Recalling that day, Krim described toting her middle child to the class at the Kaufman Music Center and seeing no sign of her older daughter, nicknamed Lulu.

"I see the kids getting let out and Lulu's not there. I started feeling really nervous and panicked," she said, crying, her voice rising. The dance teacher hadn't seen the girl.

"I said, 'Well, where is she?'" Krim said, her voice hoarse and cracking.

Krim said she began frantically texting and calling Ortega, and then running home, dragging Nessie behind her.

"She feared that something was terribly wrong," Courtney Groves, an assistant district attorney, told the jury during opening statements. "But what Marina Krim feared might have gone wrong did not even approach what had actually happened."

Speaking with her eyes closed, Krim described returning to a quiet, dark apartment, where she found the two children dead in the bathtub with multiple knife wounds, and Ortega, who had attempted to slash her own throat.

In their opening statement and examination of Krim, attorneys for the prosecution laid out their case, claiming that Ortega was a disgruntled employee who deliberately planned the killing of Lucia and Leo.

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"The defendant resented Marina Krim for being the mother that the defendant could not be," Groves said. "She resented Marina Krim for everything she was and everything she had."

Groves said the evidence would show Ortega had asked her sister in advance to take care of her son, got rid of her cellphone the morning of the slayings so she couldn't be reached, and checked with the doorman of the building where the Krims lived to make sure Marina Krim wasn't home before entering.

"The defendant knew that if she did not take precautions she could be stopped or interrupted," Groves said. "To avoid being held responsible for the murders she committed, she attempted to take her own life."

"Hold her responsible for those murders," Groves told the jurors. Ortega faces two counts of murder in the first degree and two counts of murder in the second degree.

Ortega's attorney, Valerie Van Leer Greenberg, outlined a defense that will attempt to prove Ortega suffered from untreated mental illness and was not responsible for the crimes she committed.

"You will know a diseased mind when you see it," Greenberg told the jury, adding that a "world-class hospital" like New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center would not have prescribed Ortega antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs after the incident had she not been mentally ill.

Greenberg said Ortega, the second-youngest of eight children, was born in the Dominican Republic, and her parents owned and operated a bodega. She had a son, who in 2012 was a teenager who had recently come to live with her, posing financial and other stresses.

Greenberg emphasized that Ortega had a history of depression, dissociative episodes and hallucinations.

"As a result of mental disease or defect," Greenberg said, Ortega "lacked … capacity to know or appreciate the nature or consequences of her acts."

Exiting the courtroom for the day, Krim, who looked gaunt and drained, called Ortega and attorneys for the defense "liars."

In New York, an expensive city where both parents in a household often work and don't have family close by, employing a nanny or sending a child to day care are often the only childcare options before kids are old enough to go to school.

Some parents interviewed ahead of the trial said they opted for day care over nannies in part because they felt more secure relying on an established institution where other caregivers and even the threat of liability provide a sort of check.

David Crow, who was pushing his young son in a stroller Wednesday afternoon along the street where the Krims used to live, said that in addition to being less expensive than a nanny, day care at a licensed center big enough to have multiple locations across New York City was "comforting."

When Crow's wife went back to work a few months after their son was born, they began sending him to a day care that came recommended and about which they had a good gut feeling, he said. Since then, they've been happy with the care.

Still, Crow said, "The idea of leaving your child with an essential stranger — there's always a risk to that."

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Twitter: @AgrawalNina

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