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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Mother Claims Insanity in Children's Drowning

September 19, 2000

VENTURA — The trial of an immigrant Indian woman, charged with drowning her two children earlier this year in Channel Islands Harbor, was postponed after she changed her plea, claiming she was insane at the time.

Originally, Narinder Virk, a 40-year-old housewife with a history of marital problems, pleaded not guilty. But her trial, scheduled to begin today, was postponed after she changed the plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

Virk's lawyer claims she was abused by her husband and snapped after he left for India with plans to divorce her.

"I think that was just the last straw, as they say," said Deputy Public Defender Christina Briles. "It seemed pretty clear that she suffered a breakdown after a great deal of tension because of the abuse."

Virk lived with her husband, Santokh, and their two children, ages 6 and 9, in a condominium in Port Hueneme. The couple moved to the United States eight years ago and lived in Port Hueneme for the last two.

During that time, Briles said, Virk was beaten, abandoned and neglected and was unable to seek help because of language and cultural barriers. Virk's supporters say marriage is sacred in the Sikh culture and when Virk's husband left for India to seek a divorce, she felt helpless, shamed and suicidal.

Court-appointed psychiatrists will evaluate Virk and offer opinions on whether she was suffering a mental disorder at the time of the deaths. Deputy Dist. Atty Adam Pearlman said the question of Virk's sanity will come down to whether she could understand the nature of her actions.

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