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Jury Rules Woman Who Tried to Drown Her Children Was Insane

Port Hueneme: Mother could not tell right from wrong, panel decides. She will be evaluated by mental experts and then placed in a state institution or released.

July 20, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Port Hueneme mother was insane when she tried to drown her children in Channel Islands Harbor 2 1/2 years ago, a Ventura County jury decided Friday.

Jurors deliberated for nearly two days before concluding that 42-year-old Narinder Virk was suffering from severe depression and could not tell right from wrong when she walked her son and daughter, then 9 and 6, to the harbor the night of Jan. 12, 2000, and pushed them off a dock.

Virk, an illiterate Indian immigrant who maintained she was isolated and battered by an abusive spouse, wept as the verdict was announced in Ventura County Superior Court. Supporters seated in the courtroom also broke into tears, relieved that she had been spared a possible prison sentence.

Instead, Virk's mental state will be evaluated to determine if she needs treatment or can be released.

After Virk and her children were rescued by a harbor resident, the mother was charged with attempted murder and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense lawyers tried to negotiate a plea on lesser charges of child endangerment, but prosecutors refused to settle the case.

Following a three-week trial, jurors decided a week ago that Virk was guilty on two counts of attempted murder. The trial advanced to a second phase this week in which three mental health experts testified that Virk was delusional, psychotic and legally insane at the time of the crime.

Juror Mireya Carlson, a Thousand Oaks resident, said the testimony of those experts was persuasive. "All of them said the same thing," she said, and "all of them could not possibly be biased."

Standing outside the courthouse Friday, another juror, who did not want to be identified, said there were many subtleties to the case and no one factor was key in leading jurors to conclude that Virk was insane.

"We all had a different approach, but we all came to the same conclusion," he said. "She was not thinking clearly and was not using rational thought."

"It wasn't an easy decision," he added. "I've always been a black-and-white type of person, but this one just tore that up."

After the jury was excused Friday, Virk, draped in a pale green Punjabi scarf, was taken into custody to undergo a six-week psychiatric evaluation at Ventura County Jail to determine whether she is still suffering from a mental illness.

Before the verdict was announced, defense attorney Cynthia Ellington had tried to prepare Virk, knowing she would be taken into custody either way the jury ruled.

"We're very grateful for the decision," Ellington said. "They listened to our evidence.... That woman was incredibly mentally ill. And she still is."

Ventura County mental health experts will evaluate Virk's condition in the coming weeks and prepare reports before a Sept. 9 court hearing.

If the experts conclude that she is still insane, Virk would likely be sent to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County for treatment, lawyers said. But if her sanity is deemed restored, Virk could be released from custody.

"The interesting question now is whether her sanity is the same as it was before," said prosecutor Richard Simon. He said the Ventura County district attorney's office would likely oppose any request for Virk's release.

As for the verdict, Simon said he was disappointed but respected the jurors' decision.

Times staff writers Anica Butler and Jessica Blanchard contributed to this report.

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