Potential jurors were cautioned by attorneys yesterday that the civil suit in which an Annandale gynecologist is accused by his two step-daughters of killing their mother will be "an emotional roller coaster" and "may get rather messy."

The strangled body of Susan Davoudlarian, 40, was found in June 1983 in the back seat of her station wagon, which had been in the long-term parking lot at Dulles International Airport for nearly a week.

No one has been charged in the killing, and Dr. David K. Davoudlarian has denied in a sworn deposition any knowledge of how his wife died. He said that his marriage was "very happy."

But two unusual civil lawsuits, one brought by Susan Davoudlarian's daughters from a first marriage and the other by the court-appointed administrator of her estate, allege that Davoudlarian strangled his wife. The trial of the latter suit began yesterday in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Because the courtroom was so crowded, Davoudlarian and his two step-daughters -- who lived with him until their mother's death -- ended up sitting on a bench next to one another. They neither looked at each other nor spoke.

"You will hear about the good times and the bad times of the Davoudlarian marriage," Peter D. Greenspun, who represents the daughters and estate, told potential jurors. "This case will be something of an emotional roller coaster."

"There are going to be some emotional issues, and one or more witnesses may well break down and cry . . . ," Jack Rhoades, one of the lawyers defending Davoudlarian, told jurors. "Things may well get rather messy."

Greenspun acknowledged to the jurors the difficulty of the case, given the paucity of evidence. "There is no videotape of Dr. Davoudlarian strangling his wife," Greenspun said, "There is no confession, no smoking gun; the evidence will be largely circumstantial."

Davoudlarian's attorney Rhoades picked up a similar theme, saying: "I'm sure you all have read mysteries and seen television shows in which a sleuth investigates a mysterious killing and finds the killer. Indeed, I don't think in such things the sleuth ever does not find out who did it. But in real life, it often doesn't work out that way."

The suit brought by the estate seeks $10 million in damages; the daughters' suit seeks to block Davoudlarian from collecting nearly $750,000 in insurance and property.

Attorneys for the two sides took an hour yesterday to choose a panel of nine jurors, which includes two alternates who will be dismissed before deliberations begin.

The jury, which includes a corporate strategic planner, a personnel adminstrator and a construction worker, was dismissed at noon. Opening arguments are scheduled for this morning.