Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Carleton Penn is presiding over the murder trial of William (Bull) Evans-Smith in Leesburg. He was incorrectly identified in a caption that ran in yesterday's Metro section.

A Loudoun County Circuit Court jury deliberated for four hours yesterday without reaching a verdict in the murder trial of an American University official accused of strangling his 64-year-old wife in their rustic farmhouse and then attempting to cover up the crime.

The jury of four women and eight men will return to Leesburg, Va., this morning to attempt to resolve what both prosecutors and defense lawyers yesterday described as the largely circumstantial case against William (Bull) Evans-Smith, head of American's foreign area studies program.

Circuit Court Judge Carleton Penn told the jury it could find the 65-year-old former Army officer guilty of first- or second-degree murder or not guilty.

Prosecutor William Burch and defense lawyer Blair D. Howard clashed yesterday morning about evidence the 10-day trial produced.

Burch painted a portrait of Evans-Smith as cornered by pressures created by the end of his 11-year affair with a coworker and a new office computer system that was not working smoothly. "We have the defendant with a year's pressure built up on him . . . and something snapped," he said.

Howard told the jury that the Loudoun sheriff's office had bungled the investigation of the April 15 killing and charged the wrong person. "This is a case, quite frankly, of imagination," he said.

Burch dramatically pounded his hand against a lectern as he told the crowded courtroom how he believed Barbara Evans-Smith's head bumped against the stairs as her husband allegedly dragged her by the heels up to her second-floor bedroom. Burch said the defendant strangled his wife in the kitchen of their Crooked Run Farm, near Hamilton off Va. Rte. 725, and then tried to make it appear she was the victim of a rape and burglary.

The Commonwealth's attorney conceded that much of his case against the college official was circumstantial but he charged that Evans-Smith had left "footprints in the sand" that linked him to the killing.

Burch pointed to the end of Evans-Smith's affair with Frederica Bunge, 59, and said that it may have helped the Evans-Smiths keep their 43-year marriage intact. It was after Bunge left and his office problems mounted that pressures began to build on the defendant, the prosecutor said.

Telling the jury to apply common sense to the case, Burch asked how they could explain how the defendant's blood came to be on the victim's robe.

Evans-Smith, who testified that he last saw his wife alive when he left for Washington the morning she was killed, has maintained that his wife helped him clean blood off his shirt that came from a scab he rubbed too vigorously.

Defense lawyer Howard took Burch's "footprints" analogy and countered the prosecution's case was more like a sand castle, which became distorted as the evidence, like the tide, rolled in.

As he has since this trial began, Howard hammered away at what he called a "totally inadequate investigation" by sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers. The lawyer charged that while Burch talked about footprints, he didn't mention fingerprints, which were never taken after the slaying at the 70-acre farm.

"You can take fingerprints off skin," said Howard, "What better evidence?" Virginia State Police Officer Joe Ritchie testified that he knew about the process but didn't know how to do it, Howard said, ridiculing the case as an "investigation to convict."

"Anything that detracted, that was off the course of William Evans-Smith . . . was dismissed as irrelevant," he said, and products of what he termed a "rush to judgment."

Almost shouting, Howard turned to the jury: "How can any one of you say that the defendant is guilty in this case?"

During his rebuttal, prosecutor Burch accused defense attorneys of trying to distract the jurors from "the evidence before you."

"I think the sheriff's department did an excellent job of preserving that crime scene," said Burch, whose voice also became increasingly louder. He also said that he had brought to court witnesses whom the defense had suggested were possible supects. "You be the judge" as to whether they are suspects, Burch said.

Burch said the defendant "had an answer to everything." He held up the pantyhose that were found wrapped three times around the victim's neck and asked, "Who in this case would have the rage to do that?"

He noted that Evans-Smith had said at a dinner party several months before his wife's death: "C'mon Barbara or I'll throw you in the pond!" And, Burch said, quoting the victim: "Who said 'You know I think he would.' "

One of Evans-Smith's three daughters and a prosecution witness, Lesleigh Cook, cried softly as her husband, Eddie Cook, tried to comfort her as the prosecutor referred to her mother's death. The other two daughters, who, like all family members, have declined to be interviewed, sat close together in the old courtroom.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Evans-Smith could receive a maximum of 20 years to life under Virginia law. On a second-degree murder charge, he could receive five to 20 years.