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Ventura County

Sanity Question Goes to Virk's Jury

Courts: Defense calls the woman who tried to drown her children 'very sick.' Prosecutor says she knew what she was doing.

July 18, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A distraught Port Hueneme mother was suffering from a severe mental illness the night she tried to drown her two children and should be found legally insane, a defense lawyer argued Wednesday.

Gesturing to her teary-eyed client, attorney Cynthia Ellington told jurors that 42-year-old Narinder Virk could not tell right from wrong when she walked her children to Channel Islands Harbor two years ago and pushed them off a dock.

"What she did that night was the result of an insane delusion," Ellington argued during the sanity phase of Virk's trial. "This is a very, very sick woman."

But prosecutor Richard Simon argued that evidence presented during the first phase of Virk's trial shows that she deliberately tried to kill her children to punish her estranged husband.

Simon urged jurors to find Virk sane.

"She knew what she was doing," he argued. "And she knew it was wrong."

Virk sat hunched over a courtroom table during Wednesday's closing arguments in Ventura County Superior Court. Draped in a pale green scarf, she periodically dabbed her eyes while listening to the lawyers argue about her mental stability.

Last week, jurors found Virk guilty on two counts of attempted murder after finding she deliberately tried to drown her children on Jan. 12, 2000.

According to the children's testimony, Virk woke them in the middle of the night, led them to the harbor and pushed them off a dock before jumping in herself. The children, now 8 and 11, did not know how to swim.

Virk was arrested after an Oxnard resident pulled the family from the water. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

During the first phase of Virk's trial, Ellington argued that her client, an illiterate Indian immigrant, was brutalized by her husband and unable to seek help because of language and cultural barriers.

Ellington said Virk suffered a mental breakdown after her husband boarded a plane for India with plans to divorce her.

However, Simon argued that Virk intentionally tried to drown her children to punish her allegedly abusive spouse.

On Wednesday, he told jurors that Virk was not the helpless victim portrayed by the defense. He described her as a cunning, selfish and vengeful woman who deliberately tried to drown her children.

"All this talk of abuse," he said. "Where is the evidence of it? Where is the corroboration?"

Simon repeatedly reminded jurors they found that Virk intentionally tried to kill her children--a finding he suggested conflicts with the defense theory that she was insane.

The prosecutor did not dispute a diagnosis of depression offered by at least four mental health experts during the trial. But he argued it was not the reason Virk pushed her children off the dock.

Ellington, however, pointed to the testimony of three psychiatrists during the sanity phase that Virk was suffering from delusions and was insane when she pushed her children off the dock.

Virk probably suffered from a mental illness that went undiagnosed for years, Ellington argued.

Deliberations are expected to begin this morning.

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