Handcuffed to her bed with her hair bound up in a blue hairnet, alleged killer nanny Yoselyn Ortega pleaded not guilty to charges that she murdered two children left in her care.
The 50-year-old Ortega, a naturalized citizen from the Dominican Republic for the last 10 years, is recuperating from the knife wounds she allegedly inflicted on herself after her employer Marina Krim came home to find Lucia, 6, and Leo, 2, sprawled in the bathtub after being fatally stabbed.
The hearing was held in Ortega’s hospital room at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. A Spanish translator interpreted the proceedings for the defendant. And since Ortega is currently intubated and could not speak herself, the plea was entered by her lawyer Valerie Leer-Greenberg.
Judge Lewis Bart Stone ordered a psychiatic exam for Ortega before the next court hearing scheduled for January 16. The judge denied bail, so Ortega will be kept in custody in the hospital and then in a jail when she recovers sufficiently to be moved.
Ortega faces two charges of first-degree murder and two charges of second-degree murder for the killings. The first-degree charge is reserved for accused serial or mass killers and those who kill cops or judges. It is applied in this case because Ortega is accused of multiple murders. If convicted, she would likely spend the rest of her life behind bars.
The crime rattled the Big Apple for its violence and for its innocent victims. “This crime shocked and horrified parents around the city,” said District Attorney Cyrus Vance, “Many of whom entrust their children to the care of others both by necessity and by choice.”
Now the accused killer nanny cuts a rather pathetic figure trapped in a hospital bed. Her lawyer unsuccessfully tried to keep media out of the hospital room hearing by arguing that Ortega “is in a very debilitated condition. She has tubes running out of her torso. She has a right to privacy.” Judge Stone disagreed, arguing that the freedom of the press would not be abridged even when circumstances are “uncomfortable”.
Ortega’s not guilty plea didn’t sit well with some observers. “Now she wants sympathy,” heckled the New York Post. But Ortega’s plea doesn’t necessarily mean that her defense team will deny she committed the crimes — rather that her crimes may not rise to the level of cold-blooded murder.
Emerging news reports have detailed Ortega’s dire financial straits and precarious mental condition. In fact, Judge Stone put Ortega on suicide watch this week. Although her attorneys have not come forward with a defense at this point, the most obvious tactic would be to argue diminished capacity — that Ortega wasn’t thinking clearly enough to premeditate the crimes or that she could not distinguish right from wrong when she stabbed her young charges.
Local CBS 2 reports that Kevin and Marina Krim have moved back to California with their surviving daughter. But moving across the country won’t erase the traumatic memories of their lost loved ones. Not that the Krims will be able to avoid reliving the tragedy — if this case does go to trial, the grieving mother will surely be the star witness.