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Lawyers in Virk Trial Sum Up

Court: Defense calls the Port Hueneme woman a victim of abuse. Prosecutor says she wasn't helpless.

July 12, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A distraught Port Hueneme mother accused of trying to drown her two children was psychotic at the time and incapable of carrying out the cold, deliberate crime alleged by prosecutors, a defense lawyer argued Thursday.

Attorney Cynthia Ellington asked jurors in her closing argument to acquit defendant Narinder Virk on two counts of attempted murder.

Ellington pointed to this week's testimony from two medical experts who found that Virk, a 42-year-old illiterate Indian immigrant, was suffering from stress and severe depression brought on by years of spousal abuse.

But prosecutor Richard Simon told jurors that Virk was not the helpless, battered woman portrayed by the defense. "She was not a bird caught in a storm," Simon said, referring to a witness' description of the defendant. "She was a killer caught in the act."

During Thursday's proceedings, Virk, draped in a pale traditional Punjabi scarf, dabbed tears from her downcast eyes as the lawyers offered starkly different interpretations of evidence presented during her three-week trial in Ventura County Superior Court.

Virk was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after an Oxnard resident pulled the fully clothed woman, her daughter and son, then 6 and 9, out of Channel Islands Harbor on Jan. 12, 2000.

Neither child knew how to swim.

Prosecutors charged Virk, who has no criminal record, with attempted murder and an allegation that she caused great bodily injury to her daughter, who was hospitalized for more than a week. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Ellington told jurors Thursday that Virk was so mentally disturbed that night two years ago that she could not formulate the mental state for attempted murder.

According to court testimony, Virk left a note, $600 and some cassette tapes in a bird cage outside her neighbor's apartment on her way to the harbor. She threw another audio tape in a storm drain and tossed her house keys on the ground.

Simon argued that the tapes, keys and money are evidence of premeditation.

He told jurors that Virk was settling debts, leaving $600 and a relative's address in the bird cage because she knew the neighbor would find it when she fed the bird the next day.

As for the tape left in the storm drain, Simon argued that the recording contains evidence of Virk's intention to kill her children to punish her allegedly abusive husband, Santokh.

"You will not talk with children, neither with son nor with daughter," she says, according to a transcript of the tape. "No one is going to take you[r] income, neither your son nor your daughter. This income you have, only dogs are going to eat it."

Ellington called Simon's suggestion that the tape is a suicide note conjecture and urged jurors to reject that theory. She also said the tapes were inaccurately translated from Punjabi, Virk's native language.

Beyond the physical evidence, both lawyers argued at length about Virk's mental state at the time of the incident.

According to court testimony, Virk's then-husband unexpectedly boarded a plane for India just hours before the alleged drowning attempt.

One defense expert testified that Virk, already depressed and battered, suffered flashbacks to previous trips when her husband left the family alone for months at a time with no food or money.

The expert told jurors that Virk was delusional and psychotic when she walked her children to the harbor that night.

Simon tried to debunk that theory, telling jurors that the experts based their conclusions on Virk's uncorroborated statements about physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her spouse.

Simon maintained the only way they could find Virk not guilty is to conclude she was unconscious when she pushed her children into the marina.

Jurors began deliberations late Thursday afternoon after the closing arguments.

If Virk is convicted, the case will proceed to a second sanity phase, during which the jury must decide whether she knew right from wrong at the time of the incident.

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