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Virk Described as Psychotic

Trial: Expert says abuse changed Ventura County woman accused of trying to drown her children.

July 11, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tormented life of death threats and sexual abuse by her husband had changed Narinder Virk from a doting mother into a delusional psychotic the night she allegedly tried to drown her two children, a domestic violence expert testified Wednesday.

Based on her interview with Virk after her arrest, psychologist Nancy Kaser-Boyd testified that the India native showed the classic symptoms of battered woman syndrome, which, she said, contributed to a severe mental illness.

"I think she was psychotic based on clinical depression, which was brought on by being a battered woman," Kaser-Boyd said during questioning by Virk's attorney, Cynthia Ellington.

"Psychotic impulses are hard to control, and her memory of the events that night was spotty. She didn't remember how she got to the water."

Kaser-Boyd's description of Virk as severely mentally disabled at the time of the incident supported defense testimony a day earlier by a Newport Beach psychiatrist that depicted the slight Port Hueneme woman as severely depressed and unable to tell right from wrong.

Kaser-Boyd said Virk described a nightmare home life that included being pressured by her husband, Santokh, into having four abortions.

Kaser-Boyd testified Virk had told her that two of the abortions were preceded by severe bleeding after physical assaults by her husband.

The psychologist also said she was told by Virk that her religious and cultural beliefs were violated when her husband forced her to watch pornographic videos.

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.

She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

She remains free on $500,000 bail put up by a group of supporters. If convicted and found sane by a jury, she faces life in prison. If the jury convicts her but determines she was insane at the time of the incident, she could be placed in a state hospital.

Last month the woman's two children testified that Virk woke them in the middle of the night and told them to get dressed so they could wash their faces at the edge of a boat dock at Channel Islands Harbor.

Both children--Harpreet, now 8, and her brother, Sonny, 11--said that when they reached the water's edge their mother shoved them into the harbor.

Brian Wiggins, a former lifeguard living in the marina, heard their cries for help and pulled them from the water.

Ellington has argued that the events leading up to that night made Virk--who cannot read or write in her native Punjabi and speaks little English--so distraught that she could not have formed the intent to kill.

But prosecutor Richard Simon has said Virk had a clear idea why she wanted to kill her children: revenge against her husband because he walked out on the family and returned to India.

Much like he did one day earlier during cross-examination of psychiatrist Sarabjit Sandhu, Simon attempted to discredit Kaser-Boyd's testimony. He said there have been no medical records submitted to back claims of physical abuse alleged by Virk during her interview with Kaser-Boyd.

Simon implied that Kaser-Boyd was a witness-for-hire willing to craft her testimony to suit the needs of her clients.

"There was no evidence supporting the statement that she was physically bruised and no medical reports of the beatings that led to the abortions," Simon told Kaser-Boyd. "Common sense tells you she tried to drown herself and her children but you were going to try and find a way out of this."

Kaser-Boyd said lack of physical scarring is common in domestic violence cases, and if present, the victim will often not be truthful about how the injuries were received.

"I don't question whether she experienced [domestic violence]," Kaser-Boyd said. "She was psychotic and believed she could no longer live in this world."

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