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Ventura County

Supporters Still Believe in Her

Courts: The backers, some of whom are Sikhs, attend Virk's trial every day. They say she was abused and deserves another chance.

July 16, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They drive for miles to sit in a courtroom and silently support a woman they barely know.

None of Narinder Virk's supporters is related to her. Some cannot hold a conversation with the 42-year-old woman, because she speaks only Punjabi.

Yet they rally around the diminutive defendant, a pencil-thin Indian immigrant who can neither read nor write, because they believe she was a battered wife incapable of carrying out the crime she was convicted of last week.

Now, supporters hope that jurors will spare Virk from a possible prison sentence by finding she was legally insane when she tried to drown her children two years ago.

"Don't let her rot in the jail," said Nina Sloan, a 68-year-old La Puente resident who accompanies Virk to the Ventura courthouse almost daily.

"I feel that she was really battered," Sloan said. "I feel that she should be given another chance."

Virk, 42, was found guilty of attempted murder Friday after jurors concluded that she deliberately pushed her 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter off a boat dock at Channel Islands Harbor on the night of Jan. 12, 2000. An Oxnard resident heard a child's cries and rescued the family.

Virk, who was living in Port Hueneme, was charged with two counts of attempted murder. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

During a three-week trial, prosecutors argued that Virk tried to kill her children to punish her allegedly abusive husband.

But Virk's attorney told jurors that her client was so mentally deranged after enduring years of abuse that she was incapable of forming the intent to kill.

Virk's case has struck a chord with Indian organizations, members of the Sikh community and advocates for battered women.

Sympathizers, who raised $500,000 to release Virk on bail, say the woman was trapped in a tortured marriage and rendered helpless by the rigid values of her culture.

Virk grew up the daughter of farm laborers in the village of Kalsingha, in the northwest province of Punjab. Brought to this country by the man her parents had chosen as her husband, she was isolated, abused and paralyzed with fear, witnesses testified at her trial.

"In my opinion, the district attorney should never have put charges on a woman who was obviously deeply abused and endured horrific conditions," said Gitanjali Singh, a 24-year-old UCLA graduate student in Asian American studies who has been attending Virk's trial. "I think she should get rehabilitation and a job and therapy."

Singh is one of half a dozen sympathizers who have shown up regularly during Virk's trial. They include college students, retirees and a dentist and his wife who are active in the Sikh community.

Some, like the defendant herself, come to court dressed in traditional Indian attire. Most sit in the front row of Superior Court Judge Ken Riley's courtroom.

Sloan has been a constant presence. A retired Los Angeles county employee who, like Virk, was raised in India, she says Virk's case echoes her own experiences as a battered woman.

"I was in that same situation before," she said. "No human being should be treated like that."

A Punjabi speaker, Sloan began visiting Virk at the jail more than a year ago and put up $250,000 in cash, property and investments to help gain Virk's release on bail.

She and other supporters later got Virk a job as a housekeeper and caregiver for a woman with Parkinson's disease.

Regardless of the jury's verdict, Sloan and others believe Virk is a victim--not a criminal--and are standing by her throughout the court proceedings.

"There is no change in support," she said.

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