A laborer, convicted in March of sexually abusing his 5- and 8-year-old daughters, was sentenced yesterday to nine years in prison as his wife of 11 years held their youngest daughter tightly in the front row of the Montgomery County Circuit courtroom.

The girl, whose testimony swayed jurors, according to members of the panel, hugged a rag doll and munched chocolate candies during yesterday's brief hearing.

When a deputy sheriff brought her father before Judge DeLawrence Beard, the 5-year-old grabbed her mother's hand, pointed and whispered, "There's Daddy." The family's names are not being used in this story to protect the children's identity.

The man, who has three prior convictions for indecently exposing himself to other young children, declined to say anything before Beard imposed sentence.

On the two child abuse convictions, one for each of his daughters, the man had faced a maximum sentence of 30 years. But Beard sentenced him to six years for the first conviction and three years for the second, closely following sentencing recommendations in the case, which ranged from nine to 20 years.

The man will be eligible for parole in less than 2 1/2 years, according to state parole and probation officials, a prospect that his wife says she finds troubling.

"I would have liked to see him get more time," she said after the hearing as her daughter skipped off to play with a pay telephone in the lobby outside the courtroom.

"And he's not going to get any therapeutic help, and that's what he needs," said the 32-year-old mother. "So, of course, he's going to come out in nine years or less and do it again. But not to my kids -- I'm going to protect my kids.

"When I find out he's out, I'm going. I'm not staying in Montgomery . I'll take my kids someplace else."

The couple has been separated nearly a year. The woman said she plans to file for divorce now that the court proceedings are over. Her husband has been at the Montgomery County Detention Center serving time for an assault and battery offense against her since last June.

Cleopatra Campbell, the man's lawyer, asked Beard yesterday to place the man in a sexual offenders therapy program instead of in prison. She said he is "functioning in the borderline mentally deficient range of intelligence . . . .

"I would submit that sentencing this man to jail for 10 years, 20 years or 30 years is not going to do any good," Campbell said. "This court can send him, I suppose, to jail for the full 30 years, but until he gets treatment, he's only going to repeat problems that he's always had."

But prosecutor John McCarthy, saying that therapy is not likely to reverse the man's long history of sexually abusing children, asked the judge to send the man to prison to give the mother and children time to rebuild their lives.

"He is unfortunately going to have this problem no matter what kind of treatment program this court sets up," McCarthy said, noting that psychological reports dating back to 1968 said the man was a threat to children and unlikely to respond to therapy.