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Ventura County

Virk 'Overwhelmed' by Abuse, Doctor Testifies

Court: The psychiatrist says the woman, charged with trying to drown her two children, was severely depressed because of her husband.


Testifying for the defense Tuesday, a psychiatrist said that Narinder Virk was depressed and tormented by years of spousal abuse on the night she allegedly tried to drown her two young children.

"She had severe depression. This was someone who was overwhelmed," said Dr. Sarabjit Sandhu, a Newport Beach-based psychiatrist. "It was related to the relationship with her husband. She had been verbally and physically abused."

Sandhu's testimony came as Virk's attorney, Cynthia Ellington, continued to insist that Virk was mentally incompetent the night of the incident and prosecutors pressed defense witnesses on their testimony.

Virk, 42, is charged with two counts of attempted murder for allegedly trying to drown her 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son in January 2000.

An Indian immigrant, Virk has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosectors have argued that Virk, jealous and out for revenge and a desire to punish her husband, pushed her two children off a boat dock at Channel Islands Harbor.

She was arrested after an Oxnard resident pulled the fully clothed woman and children from the water.

Ellington has said that Virk suffered a severe mental breakdown after her then-husband, Port Hueneme liquor store owner Santokh Virk, deserted the family and returned to India.

Barely able to speak English and unable to read or write, Narinder Virk was left penniless with two young children.

Sandhu, hired by Ellington to testify in the case, said he met Virk shortly after she was incarcerated at Ventura County Jail following her arrest.

She was suspicious of his questions at first, he said. But Sandhu, who spoke to Virk in her native Punjabi, said she slowly opened up to describe years of abuse at the hands of her husband.

"The final straw was that he was gone again and there was no way to know when he would return," Sandhu said. "She could not cope or function any more."

Under cross-examination by Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon, Sandhu acknowledged that Virk had not sought treatment for her depression and was not taking any prescription medication.

Neighbors have testified that screaming matches between Virk and her husband were common. Witnesses have testified that Santokh Virk was verbally abusive to his wife in front of their children. They also said Narinder Virk had often complained about a tortured marriage but said divorce was out of the question because of strict cultural values.

Earlier Tuesday, an audio-visual expert testified that a tape of an interview district attorney's investigators conducted with the couple's son backed up Narinder Virk's allegations of physical abuse.

Although the sound on the reconditioned audiotape of the interview is garbled, a transcript provided to the court stated that the couple's son, Sonny, said that "my mom and dad fight and he hits her."

The sound of hands clapping is then heard on the tape, simulating a slap.

After Simon inquired about fees for his testimony, the expert, Gregg M. Stutchman of Napa, said he is being paid $150 an hour.

Both Sonny and his sister, Harpreet, testified earlier in the trial that they never saw their father physically assault their mother.

Last week, however, a neighbor testified that Harpreet once told her that she saw her father hit her mother.

The children now live with their father in Port Hueneme. Ellington has tried to show that the children were coached by law enforcement officials.

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