Carl Dorr unzipped the small, purple duffle bag that had sat in a police evidence box for 13 years and became silent, as if momentarily stunned, before he listed the contents at the prosecutor's request.
"These are her roller skates," Dorr said, his voice choking on tears about to flow. "These are her shoes."
It was the bag that Dorr's daughter, Michele, had brought with her for the weekend visit at her father's home in Silver Spring in May 1986. The day after she set it atop a table in her bedroom, the 6-year-old vanished.
"Did you kill Michele?" Assistant Montgomery State's Attorney James Trusty asked Dorr.
"I did not," he answered, shaking his head.
"Did you have any responsibility for her death?"
"I did not."
On the second day of trial testimony, a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury heard more about the child's father than it did about Hadden Clark, the man on trial in her murder.
On cross-examination, Clark's attorneys pressed Dorr about an account he gave police just after he said Michele disappeared from his back yard on a Saturday afternoon. Their questions were of the sort usually posed to a potential suspect rather than to a grieving father.
"You say she ate lunch with you" on the day Michele disappeared, said Brian Shefferman, one of Clark's attorneys.
"Yes," Dorr answered.
"You don't mention that in your statement [to police in 1986], do you?" Shefferman asked.
Shefferman's questioning suggested that Dorr--bitter over a nasty separation and angry about the fact that child support payments to his former wife had been doubled--had a motive to make their daughter disappear.
"Didn't you threaten to abduct Michele from school or her babysitter's home?" Shefferman asked.
"I never said that," Dorr said.
In the front row, Michele's mother, Dee Dee Appleby, dabbed her eyes with a tissue.
Dorr conceded that in the years after Michele disappeared, he said on several occasions that he had killed her and buried her body--but only after suffering two nervous breakdowns under the intense media and police scrutiny.
Montgomery police detectives have said they initially focused on Dorr and interrogated him repeatedly. Parents, especially those feuding over a child, are considered the natural suspects in missing-children cases, detectives have said.
But police said their suspicions turned to Clark in 1992 after he was charged with the murder of Laura Houghteling, 23, who disappeared from her mother's Bethesda home. Clark pleaded guilty to killing Houghteling and led police to her shallow grave. He is serving 30 years for her murder.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason has barred the Clark jury from hearing of Houghteling's murder, ruling it would be prejudicial.
Yesterday, Dorr recounted from the stand how he and Michele began their weekend with a trip to the McDonald's in Derwood and a children's movie. The next morning, after Michele ate her Lucky Charms cereal and watched Saturday morning cartoons, he said, they went to a 7-Eleven, where Michele "made a beeline to the candy."
Then, he said, they returned home to the white, two-story house on Sudbury Road, where Michele splashed around in the green, turtle-shaped play pool in the back yard. In her hot-pink one-piece suit, she showed off her new ability to blow bubbles underwater, her father testified. After a quick lunch together, Michele returned to the pool, coming in only to retrieve a colorful striped towel.
Prosecutors have argued that Michele then wandered over to the house two doors down in search of her 5-year-old playmate but instead came across Clark, her playmate's uncle. Prosecutors say Clark slashed the child deeply across her chest in his niece's bedroom and then scoured the floor of her blood before carrying her body out in a duffel bag. Her body has not been recovered.
Dorr testified yesterday that he couldn't remember exactly when he last saw Michele. It could have been 12:30 p.m., he said, or it might have been as late as 3 p.m. He couldn't be sure, he said, because he spent the afternoon watching TV while Michele played outside, and he wasn't watching the clock.
Clark's attorneys have argued that Clark's timecard shows he punched in at his job as a cook at Chevy Chase Country Club at 2:46 p.m. that day, leaving him little time to kill a child and clean up the evidence.
CAPTION: Michele Dorr's roller skates and other items have been held as evidence.
CAPTION: Carl Dorr leaves the Circuit Court with his wife, Margie, after testifying about his last day with his daughter.