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Virk Seemed Distraught, Jurors Told

Courts: Testimony continues in the trial of a Port Hueneme woman accused of trying to drown her two children.


A Port Hueneme mother accused of trying to drown her two children appeared sad and distraught as she struggled to cope with a rocky marriage punctuated by frequent screaming matches with her husband, neighbors testified Tuesday.

One neighbor told jurors that in the months before the alleged drowning attempt, defendant Narinder Virk walked "like a shadow" with her narrow shoulders hunched over and her eyes downcast.

"She looked like a bird that was hit by a storm," said Sylvia Guapo, who lived in the same apartment complex.

Guapo told jurors she once called police to report a volatile fight between Virk and her former spouse, but acknowledged that she never saw him hit her.

Virk, 42, faces two counts of attempted murder for allegedly trying to drown her son and daughter, then ages 9 and 6, in Channel Islands Harbor on Jan. 12, 2000. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defense lawyer Cynthia Ellington says Virk was "brutalized" by her former spouse and suffered a mental breakdown on the night of the incident. But prosecutor Richard Simon told jurors that Virk deliberately tried to kill her children to seek revenge on her ex-husband.

Virk's trial continued Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court with testimony from neighbors and a schoolteacher. They all described Virk, an Indian immigrant who speaks little English and can neither read nor write, as a devoted mother who cared for her children despite poverty and marital problems.

"She was very protective of them," said kindergarten teacher Therese Leclerc, who taught Virk's daughter.

Leclerc testified that Virk walked her son, Sonny, and her daughter, Harpreet, to Christa McAuliffe School in Oxnard every day.

She told jurors she never saw the children's father at school, contradicting his testimony from last week.

Leclerc also testified that Virk was so thin during the 1998-99 school year that it appeared she was "starving."

According to previous court testimony, Virk's ex-husband, liquor store owner Santokh Virk, traveled to India for six months in the fall of 1998 and told an employee that his family could get groceries from the Port Hueneme store.

Ellington contends Santokh Virk deserted the family with no food or money, and later isolated his wife from her relatives in India.

Guapo testified that she used to see Narinder Virk and her children rifling through trash bins behind the apartment complex, looking for recyclable cans to get money.

"They looked like alley cats," she said.

Neighbor Lori Waldhauser testified that she once gave Narinder Virk groceries.

She also let Virk use her phone to call relatives in India because the defendant's husband would not allow her to use the phone, she said.

Waldhauser told jurors she never observed signs of physical abuse, but she could hear the couple arguing frequently.

During Tuesday's testimony, prosecutor Simon tried to show that the defense witnesses were biased in favor of Virk.

And he questioned what they really knew about the facts of the case.

At one point, Guapo became angry with his questions and began to argue with Simon, prompting Judge Ken Riley to instruct her to limit her own remarks and answer the lawyer's questions.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today.

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