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Ventura County

Virk Is Sent to State Mental Hospital

Courts: The Port Hueneme mother who tried to drown her two children could be held in the locked facility for the rest of her life.

September 14, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge committed a Port Hueneme mother to a state mental hospital Friday, two months after a jury concluded she was insane when she tried to drown her children in Channel Islands Harbor.

Narinder Virk, 42, bowed her head during a brief court appearance before deputies led her away to await transportation to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County.

Virk must spend at least six months at the locked facility and could be held there for the rest of her life or until her sanity is deemed restored.

Outside the courtroom, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon said the case is far from over.

"It hasn't really ended," said Simon, who had urged jurors to reject the insanity defense and send Virk to state prison. "My feeling is there is that gray area. I believe she was mentally ill, but not insane."

Virk's supporters believe she was a battered wife who suffered a breakdown before she tried to drown her son and daughter. They hope that with proper treatment, she can be released from Patton in less than a year.

"I'm very positive," said supporter Nina Sloan of La Puente, who helped secure Virk's release on bail two years ago and attended nearly every day of her trial. "We've told her that she will be out very soon because there is nothing wrong with her."

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

The children, who did not know how to swim, told police officers that their mother woke them in the middle of the night, led them to the harbor and pushed them off a boat dock before jumping in herself.

Virk was charged with two counts of attempted murder and an allegation that she caused serious injury to her daughter. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

At trial, prosecutors argued that Virk's actions were deliberate and premeditated. But the defense maintained that Virk was suffering from severe depression after enduring years of spousal abuse and could not tell right from wrong.

After a three-week trial in early July, jurors decided Virk was guilty on both counts and the trial advanced to a second phase, in which mental health experts testified that she was delusional, psychotic and legally insane at the time of the crime.

Jurors found Virk insane after two days of deliberation.

Since then, Ventura County's mental health department has concluded that Virk is mentally ill and, based on her court convictions, must be confined to a state mental institution.

On Friday, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley formally sentenced Virk to life in prison for the attempted murders but noted that she could be released sooner if doctors at Patton decide her sanity is restored.

Prosecutors could then oppose her release, and a separate trial on the sanity issue would be held in Ventura County Superior Court.

While she was free on bail, Virk spent 20 months caring for an elderly woman with Parkinson's disease in Northridge and still hopes to soon return to the job, Sloan said.

Virk also wants to be reunified with her children, Sloan said, although a court order now prohibits her from contacting them.

Deputy Public Defender Cynthia Ellington said she is also hopeful that Virk will someday be released from the state hospital. But she said it is too soon to tell whether her client's mental condition has improved.

"She had a psychotic breakdown," Ellington said. "Has she recovered from that? I don't know."

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