An Arlington Circuit Court jury recommended last night that Robert R. Barrow serve 39 years in prison for murdering his wife June 11 by shooting her three times and then stabbing her.

Barrow, 46, was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder and two weapons charges in the death of Nancy K. Barrow, 44, whose body was found in the kitchen of her home at 4818 N. 25th St.

The jury recommended that he serve 35 years for first-degree murder, two years for discharging a weapon in an occupied dwelling and two years for use of a weapon in committing a murder. The maximum sentence for first-degree murder is life imprisonment.

Judge Benjamin N. A. Kendrick, who under Virginia law may lower but not increase the sentence recommended by the jury, set sentencing for Dec. 6. If Barrow receives the full sentence, he will be eligible for parole in about 6 1/2 years.

The verdict came after four hours of deliberation and testimony from psychiatrists who described Barrow as "a basically gentle man" who was "his own worst enemy."

In a precedent-setting move, Judge Kendrick split the trial into two phases -- one to determine Barrow's guilt or innocence and another to fix his punishment.

Virginia law mandates such bifurcated trials in cases of capital murder, when prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. In this case, "the bifurcation is probably making historic inroads in Virginia law," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Frank Soulier.

Barrow's attorneys, Mark B. Sandground and John W. Karr, who argued that Barrow killed his wife in "a moment of absolute blind passion," initially wanted a single trial that would include testimony from psychiatrists.

A January ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court forbade testimony about a defendant's "diminished capacity or responsibility" when determining guilt or innocence in cases that do not involve an insanity plea, but said such testimony is permissible in sentencing.

"The court felt it was important that the jury know everything about the defendant and his case in order to make a knowledgeable decision," said Soulier. "And the only way to do that without violating the Supreme court ruling was to bifurcate the trial."

"It was a very gutsy thing for a judge to do that," said Karr. "There's no authority for it, but there's no authority against it."

Kendrick would not comment on his ruling yesterday. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said Kendrick's decision will likely be tested if the case is appealed. Karr said after the verdict that he had not yet decided whether to appeal.

A psychologist and two psychiatrists testified yesterday that Barrow, who they said suffered from a poor self-image, tended to turn his anger inward rather than express it.

"He was a person who, when you come down to it, really accomplished very little in the life that he had," said psychologist Stanton E. Sanenow.

"This type of person carries around with him an enormous amount of pent-up rage from a lifetime of insults," said psychiatrist Thomas Goldman. On the night of the murder, he said, "I think a typical argument ensued . . . in the course of which he felt sufficiently hurt and attacked that his rage went out of control.

"There is no reason to think this is a man who would be motivated to kill anyone ever again," Goldman said.

Karr, in closing arguments, asked for the minimum sentence of 20 years on the murder count.

"Last week you decided what happened in the past; now you get to decide what happens in the future," he told the 12 jurors. "Please find it in your hearts to forgive this man and not sentence him to more than 20 years in jail."

Soulier, in closing, urged the jury to signal the community with its sentence "that this act will not, shall not, be tolerated.

"Do I feel the case warrants a term of life imprisonment? Yes, I do," Soulier said. "That's my opinion. It's your decision."