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Doctor Testifies Virk Was Insane

Crime: As the trial's second phase begins, a psychiatrist says she didn't know right from wrong when trying to drown her children.

July 16, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Suffering delusions and severe depression, Narinder Virk could not tell right from wrong when she attempted to drown her children in Channel Islands Harbor two years ago, a court-appointed psychiatrist testified Monday.

Dr. Ronald Shlensky told jurors that based on his evaluation, Virk was insane at the time of the crime.

"This patient clearly meets the test," said Shlensky, the first witness to take the stand during the sanity phase of Virk's trial. "I don't think she really knew what she was doing."

Virk, 42, was convicted last week on two counts of attempted murder after a jury found she deliberately tried to drown her 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son in the harbor on Jan. 12, 2000.

The case now proceeds to a second phase in which the same jurors must decide whether Virk, a former Port Hueneme resident, was sane at the time.

During a brief opening statement Monday, Deputy Public Defender Cynthia Ellington told jurors they would hear testimony this week from two court-appointed medical experts who evaluated Virk.

Both doctors concluded that Virk, an Indian immigrant who alleges she was beaten and abused by her spouse, was insane when she took her children to the harbor and pushed them in, Ellington said.

Other experts will testify about Indian culture. Doctors and nurses from the Ventura County Jail may also be called by the defense to testify about Virk's psychotic episodes while in jail, Ellington said.

During the sanity phase, the burden is on the defense to prove that Virk was suffering from a mental defect that rendered her unable to understand the nature of her actions or distinguish right from wrong.

Ellington told jurors that California law recognizes "there are mental states in which crimes are committed."

And she argued that at the end of the sanity phase, a preponderance of the evidence will show that Virk was legally insane as a result of depression, isolation and spousal abuse.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon told jurors in his opening remarks, however, that Virk knew what she was doing when she led her children to the harbor in the middle of the night and pushed them off a boat dock into the icy water.

"There is no way the defense is going to show the defendant was not legally sane at the time," Simon said. "She knew the difference between right from wrong."

Last week, Simon argued that Virk deliberately tried to kill her two children to punish her husband. In their verdict, jurors specifically found that Virk acted with premeditation and deliberation.

During Monday's testimony, Simon challenged Shlensky's conclusions about whether or not Virk was sane.

Referring to a jail doctor's notes, the prosecutors attempted to show that Virk began to suffer psychotic episodes after her arrest and incarceration.

Shlensky disagreed, stating that Virk "clearly" exhibited signs of mental illness prior to the Jan. 12 incident.

Also Monday, Robert Goldman, professor of South and Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley, testified that water holds a spiritual connection in Indian culture, mythology and religion.

"People go there to die," he said.

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