Attorneys for David K. Davoudlarian, the Annandale gynecologist accused in a civil suit of strangling his wife, denounced the case against him yesterday as composed "entirely of speculation, suspicion and innuendo," as they sought unsuccessfully to have the suit dismissed.
"There is not one scintilla of evidence that Dr. Davoudlarian strangled his wife," Plato C. Cacheris, one of the attorneys, told Judge Lewis H. Griffith and a Fairfax County Circuit courtroom so full that its two sets of double doors were propped open by spectators who spilled into the hall.
The motion to dismiss the $10 million damage suit came at the end of the trial's second week, after the jury had heard evidence against the doctor but none of his defense, and it provided moments of high drama.
"What has been shown is that Dr. Davoudlarian is perhaps a bore, is perhaps rude, is a strict father, is insensitive, is an unknowing cuckold many times over, but not that he is a killer," Cacheris declared.
Davoudlarian, 49, has testified in sworn depositions that he last saw his wife, Susan, 40, early on June 4, 1983, after the couple returned home from a local pub and went to bed. The next morning, he maintains, she and her car were gone from the house without explanation.
Her nude body was found wedged beneath the folded-down back seat of her station wagon parked in the long-term lot at Dulles International Airport eight days later.
No one has been charged in her death, and Davoudlarian has denied any involvement.
"There is no evidence that's been produced that he did anything, there is no proof," Cacheris said, as he concluded a 30-minute argument.
"There is no evidence . . . he strangled his wife. There is no evidence he could have done it. There is no evidence he went to Dulles, and . . . no evidence he ever came back if he went in the first place."
The judge next heard an hour-long recitation of circumstantial evidence produced at the trial from Stanley Klein, an attorney for Susan Davoudlarian's estate, which is suing the doctor.
Griffith, who had earlier dismissed the jury for the weekend, then issued his ruling:
"The plaintiffs have the responsibility at this stage to have established a prima facie case . . . based on facts and inferences, not speculation," he told a silent courtroom.
"Based on that test," Griffith continued, as spectators appeared to be holding their breath, "the motion to strike is overruled. We begin the defense's case Monday at 10 a.m."
In the hall outside the courtroom, a mood of victory prevailed among Susan Davoudlarian's relatives and friends. As Klein emerged from the courtroom, he was embraced by Susan Rooney, one of Susan Davoudlarian's two daughters by a previous marriage, and by the dead woman's father, Marlin Stewart.
Susan Davoudlarian's daughters have filed a second suit, making the same allegation, seeking to block their stepfather from collecting nearly $750,000 in life insurance and land.
Cacheris, a former federal prosecutor whose clients as a defense attorney have included former attorney general John Mitchell during the Watergate scandal, said he wasn't surprised that the judge decided to go ahead with the trial, because it is a civil suit. "We're ready to go forward," he said.
Civil courts require that "the preponderance of evidence" support accusations, rather than the more rigorous criminal court requirement of proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."
If the nine-member civil jury finds that Davoudlarian killed his wife, it can only award damages to her estate, and cannot send him to the penitentiary.
The plaintiff's case, built on testimony from 45 witnesses, has focused on:
* The state of the Davoudlarian marriage. Witnesses said it was frequently acrimonious and that Susan Davoudlarian wanted a divorce. Two men testified they had extramarital affairs with her.
* Dr. Davoudlarian's temper and anger over an affair witnesses testified he thought his wife was having in 1980.
* His behavior -- described in business-as-usual terms -- after his wife disappeared. A friend of one of the daughters also testified that Dr. Davoudlarian had asked him not to spend the night at the house the night Susan Davoudlarian disappeared. Police have said they believe that Susan Davoudlarian was slain at home, but no physical evidence has been produced to support that contention.
* Testimony from investigators that Susan Davoudlarian could have been strangled silently as she slept.
* Davoudlarian's refusal to speak to police after doing so the day his wife's body was found.
* The $374,000 in insurance he took out on his wife's life in the last four months she was alive.
Summing up the plaintiff's case before Judge Griffith, Klein argued that Davoudlarian "had the time -- five hours; place -- he was last seen alive with her; motive -- I've given you three or four. Opportunity -- clearly. And conduct -- just look at it."