Former American University official William (Bull) Evans-Smith, insisting he was not involved in his wife's "tragic death," was sentenced yesterday by a Loudoun County judge to five years in prison.

Circuit Court Judge Carleton Penn, calling the sentence "very light," followed the recommendation made by the jury last August when it found Evans-Smith guilty of second-degree murder in the April 15, 1985, strangulation of his wife Barbara.

Under Virginia law, Penn could decrease but not increase the recommended sentence. Over the objections of Commonwealth's Attorney William Burch, Penn allowed Evans-Smith, 65, to remain free on bond pending an appeal. He could be eligible for parole after serving about a year.

Before he announced his sentence in the Leesburg courtroom, Penn asked Evans-Smith if he wanted to say anything. Pausing a few seconds, and taking a deep breath, Evans-Smith began an emotional statement:

"I thank you for the opportunity to make a comment. In the late evening hours on the 26th of July in 1935, Barbara and I joined hands and we kissed. She was 14; I was 15. For seven years we were sweethearts. We married. We became lovers. We became parents, husband and wife, our love and devotion as friends, as companions, matured over the years.

"We never shouted at each other. We never yelled at each other. We were not the door-slamming type of persons. I loved my wife. She loved me. I never raised my hand in offense against her. She never raised her hand in offense . . . or defense against me. I never struck my wife.

"I had no involvement, your honor, in her tragic death. On the morning of the 15th of April, when I kissed her goodbye, and the intervening 50 years, with that love and devotion, I am not guilty. I am innocent . . . . "

The body of Barbara Evans-Smith, 64, was found sprawled on the floor of her bedroom at the couple's Crooked Run Farm in Loudoun County. A pair of her pantyhose was wrapped three times around her neck and tied in a knot.

Dresser drawers were ajar and jewelry boxes were toppled in what neighbors described as the always-meticulous farmhouse near Hamilton. Her body was partially clothed, and it appeared she had been raped.

Prosecutor Burch maintained during the trial, which stretched over three weeks and included testimony from about 90 witnesses and more than 100 pieces of evidence, that Evans-Smith had strangled his wife of 43 years and then "set the stage" to make it appear she had been raped and the house had been burglarized.

He argued that Evans-Smith, a former Army colonel who was director of the Foreign Area Studies Program at American University, was frustrated by the end of an 11-year affair with a coworker and other problems at work. "We have the defendant with a year's pressure built up on him," Burch said during the trial. "And something snapped."

Evans-Smith retired from American after his conviction.

One of the couple's three daughters, Lesleigh Cook, who attended the sentencing yesterday, testified for the prosecution that her mother told her months before her death that her father had struck her.

Blair D. Howard, one of Evans-Smith's defense attorneys, repeatedly criticized the prosecution's case as based on a "totally inadequate investigation" by the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department.

Howard and David H. Moyes said their appeal will be based in large part on hearsay evidence. They also maintained that the jury's verdict, reached after 4 1/2 days of deliberations, was tainted because an unnamed juror consulted an almanac outside the jury room.

Juror Christine E. Nelson came forward and said in an affidavit that information cited from the almanac caused her to "unwillingly surrender" to the 11 other jurors who voted to convict Evans-Smith.

The attorneys demanded a new trial, but their motion was denied.

Before yesterday's sentencing, they repeated their request and Penn agreed to reconsider the juror's affidavit. He also agreed to consider the affidavits filed by seven other jurors in response to "the retracting juror."

The almanac indicated that the sun would have been up at a time when Evans-Smith said he used his truck headlights the morning of his wife's death.

Burch argued that while the jurors acknowledged that an almanac was consulted, their affidavits, all identical, disputed Nelson's testimony, and Penn again denied the defense motion for a new trial. He acknowledged later, however, that "there were some very difficult and close decisions" during the trial, which likely would be addressed on appeal.

In an emotional plea to Penn, Moyes argued that Evans-Smith already has been punished -- he has lost his wife, his family, his profession and his reputation. "He's going to be punished for the rest of his life."