David Lewis Rice wanted to be caught. Capture would give him the final medal of valor in his own dark battle against communists, Jews and other forces of evil bedeviling his country. And so this self-proclaimed soldier of the right began scribbling confessions even before the police picked him up for the bloody Christmas Eve assault on the Charles Goldmark family.

Annie Goldmark had died instantly that night, a knife wound to the heart. On Dec. 28, two days after Rice's arrest, 10-year-old Colin died. Chuck Goldmark, a prominent Seattle attorney, and his 12-year-old son Derek would linger, hopelessly maimed with head injuries.

At Harborview Hospital, where friends and family kept a constant vigil, the early pain and grief evolved into a kind of numbness. "Your first instinct is to pray for survival," a friend said. "Later you pray for whatever is best."

Some of the early anger had ebbed, too. One close friend recalled first seeing the mutilated bodies of the Goldmarks on Christmas Eve. "I simply went into a rage," he said. "I mean, here I was, this person with a lifelong and deep conviction against capital punishment, and I wanted to go out and kill with my bare hands."

Since capital punishment was reinstated here in 1981, the death penalty has been rare. In King County, the state's largest, it has been handed down just once -- to one of the killers in Chinatown's so-called Wah Mee gambling-den murders of 13 persons.

After several weeks County Prosecutor Norm Maleng announced he would seek the death penalty in the Goldmark murder trial, which opened yesterday. Although Rice confessed to the Goldmark slayings, he has entered a double plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of aggravated first-degree murder. In a provocative analogy, one local writer has likened Rice's case to that of the dimwitted Smerdyakov in "The Brothers Karamazov."

The request for the death penalty met with mixed reaction from Goldmark's friends, who form a kind of Pacific Northwest civil-libertarian elite. Karen Marchioro, chairman of the state's Democratic Central Committee, said the death penalty "would not be in character" with Goldmark's "basic philosophy."

By that time Chuck Goldmark was dead and only young Derek held on.

Seattle prides itself as one of the country's most livable cities, a place where people come to escape eastern problems, from pollution to crime, a place where many prominent citizens still list their phone numbers and addresses in the telephone book. The Christmas Eve killings blew that illusion away.

Suddenly the Goldmarks became everyone's neighbors. Throughout the holiday season and for weeks to follow, talk of the case resonated through the city. Prominent Jewish attorneys thought about unlisting their numbers, and looked into home security systems. Children were instructed not to answer the door.

The police, who had Rice talking like a windup doll, quickly put out the word that the killer appeared to have acted alone. They also began to play down the anti-Semitism, but not the anticommunist theme. Ironically, Chuck Goldmark was not Jewish, although one of his grandparents was of Jewish extraction.

Then abruptly Rice went public with a bizarre string of jail-house interviews, calling in newspaper and television reporters one after another. He told them he was sorry about the children but that soldiering is soldiering and war is war. "Believe it or not," he said, "I really hold human life as a precious thing."

He talked about going to work for a Jewish wholesaler in Arizona:

"It was then that I discovered what Jews can do to you. Jews think Gentiles are less than animals. He had me lifting 300- to 400-pound stoves all day for $3.50 an hour. Once he said he'd give me a stove if I could guess the weight. I guessed 385 pounds. He weighed it and said it was 385 1/2 pounds, and he wouldn't give it to me, and he laughed at me for being so stupid."

He also talked about the strange little right-wing group called the Duck Club and two of its officers, Anne Davis and Homer Brand:

"Anne could tell you what was wrong with city and state government, and Homer ran for the School Board to try to fix up that mess. I'd listen when they talked. 'Shut your mouth and open your eyes,' I always say."

He said he would be "proud to die for my country."

Nine days after the assault, David Lewis Rice was brought into court and formally arraigned on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. Later, as January crept by and first Chuck and then Derek Goldmark died, Rice would be brought in again and then again, adding third and fourth counts of murder to the charges against him.

The initial court appearance was brief and haunting, the public's first look at the man who had confessed to the Christmas Eve slayings. Rice appeared in black sandals that deprived him of the suicide tool of shoelaces, his gaunt frame clad in red jail-house coveralls, his hands cuffed as his victims' had been. His eyes were sunken, downcast, almost lost in the black-bearded face.

Defense attorney William Lanning quickly pleaded Rice not guilty, pending a psychological examination. A canny, 72-year-old veteran of several hundred murder defenses and an opponent of the death penalty, Lanning knew he had serious problems. He had been called by Rice, apparently randomly, several hours after his arrest. Lanning talked to Rice briefly at the jail that day and took the case for the simplest of reasons: "Because this guy needed a lawyer. Bad."

After the court appearance, Lanning began a puzzling dance. At one point he said, "My client does not dispute any of the facts. We're not looking for a not-guilty verdict. I'm looking to save his life." A moment later he said, "I don't think we can meet the criteria of the legal definition of insanity." The law is one thing, but juries are another -- and have been known to sympathize with emotional arguments.

Under the so-called McNaughton rule, a successful insanity plea would require Lanning to show that Rice did not know right from wrong at the time of the attack. But down at the jail house, Rice was telling everyone that he understood murder was wrong. Killing the Goldmarks was different, he said -- the act of a soldier at the beginning of a war.

A plea of temporary insanity seemed even less promising. This misguided political avenger had planned his maneuvers intricately. He had also added robbery, netting $14 and a failed chance at some cash from a bank machine.

Lanning was groping for a more complex defense, one that would have deep moral implications.

The psychological report, which Lanning immediately made public by entering it in the court record, appeared to give him a handhold.

Dr. Kenneth M. Muscatel, the court-appointed clinical psychologist, wrote that he found Rice to be "an extremely disturbed man" with "both schizoid and paranoid features." He also concluded that Rice was legally sane, able to describe the events with a "high degree of organization, awareness and cognizance" and "to appreciate that what he was doing was wrong."

From there, however, Muscatel developed a troubling scenario that seemed to lead Lanning toward what writer Eric Scigliano, in the Seattle magazine The Weekly, would call "the Smerdyakov defense."

In Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," the dim-witted Smerdyakov listens to the nihilistic prattle of his college-educated half-brother Ivan and acts on them, killing their brutish father. Ivan later breaks down, accepting the guilt for committing murder through his words.

Muscatel concluded in his report that Rice had been manipulated not only by a society that failed him but also, even if unknowingly, by the prattle he heard and read at the Duck Club. According to the report, Rice lived in a world of "conspiratorial information" about "communists, the Federal Reserve, international bankers, his perception that there are foreign troops just over the border of Canada and Mexico ready to shoot American citizens . . .

"He indicates that his actions with the Goldmarks was the first step in [a] war," Muscatel wrote, "and, thus, he saw himself as a soldier. Sometimes, he said, soldiers have to kill."

According to Muscatel's report, Rice said he received "communications" from "friends" in outer space, and that those "friends" directed him to seek out the Goldmarks. But Muscatel concluded that "most of the 'delusional' material" Rice thought he heard from outer space "turned out to be information that he found in actual pamphlets and publications, and information that he discussed with and found support in from some of the important individuals in his life."

The report went on:

"The point is that Mr. Rice did not cook up this stuff by himself, out of touch with society . . . Rather, he belonged to a subgroup of individuals who believed in and supported these ideas. In fact, these people validated these ideas as rational and important . . .

"In this regard, I think these people share at least a moral responsibility for what happened."

Lanning seemed to have found his Smerdyakov, at least in the view of Muscatel. But what about Ivan?

By its own reckoning, the Seattle chapter of the Duck Club was down to a handful of regulars and a mailing list of 200 by the time of the Goldmark murders. Even Rice, in his sessions with Muscatel, wrote it off as a "B.S. group" that met once a month to "discuss the Constitution and local problems."

Muscatel concluded, as had the police, that Rice's Duck Club associates were "not directly knowing or approving of Rice's actions against the Goldmarks." But still his report pointed an accusing finger.

Seeking the killer's motivation, Muscatel contended that the Duck Club's support system and rhetoric had set Rice off as a sort of dangerously misguided missile whose "eventual acts of violence were directly and indirectly abetted by those individuals who supported and actively led and encouraged his distorted thinking." Rice's associates "should have known better, but didn't know or didn't care" about his obvious instability.

According to Muscatel's report, Rice said he first heard of Goldmark from club president Homer Brand at one of the "B.S. sessions" and that Brand described Goldmark as the "regional director" of the Communist Party.

Brand, in one of his few conversations with the media, said that he "vaguely remembers" the mention of Goldmark at one or two meetings. But he was taking no blame, legal or moral.

Anne Davis, the Duck Club treasurer, remains the mystery woman in the case. She has changed her phone, moved and scrupulously avoided the media since Rice's arrest. Authorities say she has been cooperating fully with them.

A naturopathic physician, Davis apparently took Rice in after treating him for chain-smoking in two sessions of hypnosis. Friends alternately describe her as bright, businesslike and aggressive, but also as a person who turned to extreme right-wing views in the past year.

After Rice's arrest, while Davis was away in Florida, police found bags of right-wing literature in her apartment. In his psychological evaluation, Muscatel wrote that Rice told him the "final precipitant to action" against the Goldmarks was an article in the Duck Club News Digest given him by Davis.

The article, written by a retired Army colonel who bills himself as the "national military commander" of the Christian Patriots Defense League, reported that 30,000 Communist Chinese troops were poised over the Canadian border and 40,000 North Korean troops hovered just across the Mexican border, "waiting for the word from the Federal Reserve to take over."

To Rice, that meant war.

The Duck Clubbers and some others, quite naturally, are having none of this. One acquaintance of Brand's angrily wrote off the Smerdyakov theory as "the liberals' attempt" to find a rational answer for a random act of violence.

Others hope the trial will be an educational as well as legal exercise -- probing not only into the strange mind of the confessed killer, but also into the strange subsociety of ultrarightists.

William L. Dwyer, a highly regarded Seattle attorney whom Washington's two senators have recommended for a vacant federal judgeship, represented Chuck Goldmark's father in a widely publicized 1963 libel trial against two right-wing newspapers that alleged he had communist ties. After that long trial, with witnesses describing "conspiracies" as bizarre as those heard now, Dwyer returned to Seattle "never wanting to hear the word communism again." He had, he said, "enough talk of conspiracies to last me a lifetime."

For Dwyer, who remained lifetime friends of Chuck and Annie Goldmark, that wasn't to be. Now he thinks this trial is important not just to punish a killer or to determine whether one life is to be taken for four innocent lives.

"It's also important," he said, "that the truth come out about the origins of this act, because that will show the dangers inherent in the loose libels and slanders . . . that some people engage in without thinking of the possible consequences."

Over the next few weeks a jury will write some sort of ending to the half-century saga of the Goldmark family, whether or not those moral implications will ever be resolved.

Meanwhile, the Goldmark home still sits peacefully on the hill in Madrona, with its panoramic view of Lake Washington. William Downing, one of the prosecutors who will try the case against Rice, examined the house recently, long after the slaughter.

The stockings were still hung by the fireplace. The tree was gaily decorated, and the gifts rose in a mound beneath it. The table was set for 10. In the kitchen, Annie Goldmark's cookbook still sat open at the recipe for baked ham.

"It was like a house frozen in time," Downing said, "a museum exhibit of a happy American family preparing to celebrate the holidays."

That was downstairs. Downing did not feel like describing the upstairs bedroom.