David K. Davoudlarian, the Annandale gynecologist accused in a civil lawsuit of strangling his wife, denied in Fairfax County Circuit Court yesterday that he killed her and asserted that he had loved her.
Davoudlarian, 49, made the denial twice during questioning by Plato Cacheris, one of his attorneys. The second time, Davoudlarian repeated the question: "Did I kill my wife?" raising his eyebrows. "I did not."
At another point, Cacheris asked: "Doctor, on June 3, 1983 the day before his wife, Susan S. Davoudlarian, disappeared , did you love your wife?"
"Yes," he answered.
Davoudlarian was on the witness stand for more than five hours yesterday, the second day of his testimony in the civil suit filed against him by his wife's estate. The crowd of spectators was so large that normal courtroom rules were suspended and people were allowed to sit on the floor and on benches normally reserved for parties to court cases.
The drama of the day's proceeding was heightened with the interruption of Davoudlarian's testimony so the estate could bring on a surprise witness, one of his former patients, who testified she had been his lover 14 years ago in California.
Taube Baber testified that Davoudlarian told her over lunch a month after his wife's death that he knew his wife had been having several affairs and that he had given the names of her lovers to police and believed that "any one of them" could have killed her.
Baber also testified that Davoudlarian told her his wife had "threatened to leave him."
Davoudlarian testified Monday and yesterday, as well as in sworn depositions he gave in preparation of the trial of the suit, that he knew nothing of his wife's extramarital affairs and that she never sought a separation from him.
He has said he first learned of his wife's affairs from police the night after her nude body was found, wedged beneath the folded-down back seat of her station wagon, which was parked in the long-term lot at Dulles International Airport.
Baber said it was a newspaper article last week in which the doctor was quoted as calling his marriage "happy" that prompted her to call attorneys for the estate last Friday.
During her testimony yesterday, Stanley Klein, one of those attorneys, asked her: "Why are you here?"
"Because it is the right thing to do," she replied.
When Davoudlarian resumed the witness stand his attorney asked him if he had done what Baber had testified he had done. He responded, "That is not true. The police told me she had had a lover."
Davoudlarian, who occasionally wisecracked during his testimony Monday, seemed subdued yesterday. While testifying about the day his wife's body was found, he said, "The body was badly decomposed," then his eyes filled with tears and his voice faltered. "They said they would have to keep her in the refrigerator area of the morgue. I was very emotional about it."
The trial's most dramatic moments so far occurred yesterday, the 10th day of testimony, and the physical discomfort also seemed to peak for the crowd.
Spectators began lining up for seats an hour before the court convened and overwhelmed the courtroom's cooling system, turning the chamber into a sauna. Spectators fanned themselves and jurors mopped their faces with handkerchiefs.
Court officials said they were hoping to move the trial today to an adjoining courtroom that is three times larger.
Davoudlarian is expected to continue testifying today, as the defense heads into the third day of its presentation following two weeks of evidence presented by the estate.
The slaying of Susan Davoudlarian, 40, is officially unsolved. No one has been charged in her death, and Davoudlarian has always denied any involvement.
The civil suit brought by her estate alleges that Davoudlarian strangled her and seeks $10 million from him to be divided among her three children. A second civil suit brought by Mrs. Davoudlarian's two daughters from a previous marriage, which is pending, makes the same allegation and seeks to block Davoudlarian from collecting $750,000 in life insurance and property.
Under cordial cross-examination yesterday, Davoudlarian gave curt answers, often only a single word, and frequently corrected information in the questions posed by Peter Greenspun, one of the attorneys for the estate.
Asked if he had enlisted in the Navy in 1969, Davoudlarian replied: "No, I didn't enlist, I never said that. I volunteered."
Greenspun, standing by the jury box, looked up at Davoudlarian and said: "Isn't that the same thing, doctor?"
"I don't know. All I know is I volunteered," Davoudlarian replied.
The doctor testified that he did not recall asking the boyfriend of one of his daughters to leave his house the night before his wife disappeared.
He also testified that he did not recall accusing his wife at a party of having an affair.
Several witnesses have testified he did both.
Moments before the end of yesterday's proceedings, Davoudlarian told of seeing his wife for the last time in the early morning hours of June 4, 1983, after they had made love, just before he rolled over and went to sleep.
"I remember her opening the bedroom door," Davoudlarian said, "and then going toward the bathroom. That's the last picture I have of my wife, walking into the bathroom."
When he awoke the next morning, he said, she was gone.