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Jury Told Virk Refused to Seek Divorce

July 04, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Narinder Virk complained constantly about her tortured marriage but refused to seek a divorce because of fear and the rigid values of her culture, witnesses testified Wednesday.

"She was afraid he would be angry at her," said Harveen Simpkins, referring to Virk's allegedly abusive ex-husband. "She was afraid of him."

Virk, 42, is charged with two counts of attempted murder for allegedly trying to drown her two children.

She was arrested in January 2000 after an Oxnard resident pulled the fully clothed woman, her 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son out of Channel Islands Harbor.

Prosecutors contend Virk, motivated by revenge and a desire to punish her husband, tried to kill the children by pushing them off a boat dock and holding them underwater.

But the defense has said that Virk, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, suffered a breakdown after her husband boarded a plane for India and left the family penniless.

The couple have since divorced.

Simpkins testified she met Narinder Virk in 1992 after moving to Port Hueneme. She told jurors that during their six-year friendship she saw Santokh Virk verbally abuse his wife and demean her in front of their children.

"He was kind of rude and crude to her," Simpkins testified. She told jurors she never saw injuries or signs of physical abuse.

An Indian immigrant, Virk barely speaks English and cannot read or write her native tongue.

Simpkins, originally from India, testified that in the mid-1990s she was the defendant's only friend who spoke Punjabi, and over time the relationship became tiresome.

Isolated and lonely, Narinder Virk complained constantly about her spouse, Simpkins said. In 1998, the phone calls from Virk became so frequent that Simpkins, a law student at the time and now a Ventura attorney, had a call-blocking device put on her phone.

"She was acting crazy, and driving me crazy," she testified.

Simpkins told jurors she became frustrated and urged Virk to get a divorce. Simpkins said she even volunteered to drive Virk to the courthouse.

"She didn't want to go," Simpkins said.

Instead, she said, Virk became despondent and even suicidal, telling her friend, "The next time he takes the children and leaves, I'm going to go to the beach and keep walking."

Virk listened to the proceedings with the assistance of a Punjabi interpreter Wednesday, and cried throughout much of her former friend's testimony.

A neighbor, Elisa Quesada, also testified she had suggested Virk divorce her husband.

"How did she react?" prosecutor Richard Simon asked.

"She didn't want to," Quesada replied. "She said that people in India look very poorly on divorced women."

A UC Irvine professor testified Wednesday that in the region of India where Virk grew up, women are generally regarded as subservient to their spouses. Inderpal Grewal, an expert on immigrant women from India, said arranged marriages are common in the province of Punjab. Divorced women typically have no rights to property, she said, and are often left impoverished.

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