A Montgomery County jury weighing murder charges against Hadden Clark adjourned yesterday without reaching a verdict after prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over the merits of testimony by prison inmates who said the former cook confessed to killing 6-year-old Michele Dorr.

Assistant Montgomery State's Attorney Debra Dwyer told jurors that Clark was a "manipulating, cunning" man who told fellow inmates that he nearly decapitated the girl 13 years ago and boasted of leading police on a "wild goose chase" in the search for her body, which has not been found.

But Clark's attorneys argued that jurors should not believe the testimony of untrustworthy prison inmates. And without their accounts, prosecutors had presented no evidence that Clark killed the girl, they said.

After getting the case about 5 p.m., the jurors deliberated about two hours before adjourning for the weekend. They will resume deliberations Monday morning.

Clark, 47, is charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance of Michele, one of Montgomery County's most notorious missing-children cases. The girl was last seen May 31, 1986, in a pink-and-white bathing suit splashing around a play pool in her father's Silver Spring back yard.

Clark, who is serving a 30-year sentence for the 1992 murder of a young Bethesda woman, spent most of the day with his shoulders hunched, his head bowed and his eyes closed. As Dwyer addressed the jury, he turned away from the prosecutor and faced the jury sideways.

One of his attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Brian Shefferman, argued that the inmates had made up Clark's supposed confession and that the primary physical evidence--blood found in the cracks of a wooden floor of the bedroom where prosecutors say Michele was killed--did not link him to any crime.

"Hadden Clark did not kill Michele Dorr," Shefferman told jurors. Clark was "a celebrity of sorts" in prison because other inmates heard on the news that he was a suspect in Michele's disappearance. Telling authorities that Clark had confessed to them, Shefferman said, became the inmates' "ticket out."

Defense attorneys suggested that Michele just as easily could have drowned in the backyard pool and then her father, Carl Dorr, could have hid her body to cover up the fact that he had left her alone. At the time, the father was in the midst of a nasty divorce with Michele's mother.

Shefferman said Clark had an alibi. His timecard showed that he clocked in to work in the kitchen of Chevy Chase Country Club at 2:46 p.m. on the day Michele vanished, leaving him no time to kill her, clean up the evidence and report to work.

But Assistant State's Attorney James Trusty said Clark's attorneys "could never commit" to a single scenario that bolstered his innocence. Clark had plenty of time to attack Michele, they said, after she wandered from her father's back yard to the home of Clark's brother two doors away. Michele likely wandered into the house looking for Clark's niece, who was her favorite playmate, prosecutors said.

Several of Clark's fellow inmates testified that he told them he was moving out of his brother's house that day when he heard a noise upstairs and, thinking it was a burglar, went to his truck to retrieve a butcher knife from his toolbox. When he discovered Michele playing with dolls in his niece's upstairs bedroom, Clark told the inmates he slashed her across the chest and, after she fell to the floor, clasped his hand over her mouth and slit her throat so deeply that he nearly decapitated her.

But Clark's attorneys questioned the credibility of the inmates, arguing that they could have known such details from news accounts and concocted the supposed confessions hoping to use them to win early release.

Although Clark's attorneys told jurors they should be skeptical of Dorr, Dwyer said the father "adored" Michele and did not have "one sliver of motive to kill his only child."

Dorr confessed to his daughter's murder, prosecutors said, but only after he "snapped" in two mental breakdowns from the intense pressure of police interrogations and media scrutiny. Any threats to abduct Michele, prosecutors said, were merely angry remarks to his estranged wife.

Both sides argued over the meaning of blood found in the cracks between the floorboards in the bedroom where prosecutors say Michele died under Clark's knife. A police blood expert testified that she found more than 100 spots where blood had seeped into the grooves, though a laboratory expert testified that testing done on seven of those spots showed that the DNA matched neither Clark's DNA nor Michele's.

"Michele's blood is not on that floor," Shefferman said.

Prosecutors, however, argued that the DNA tests were not relevant because the blood in the floor's grooves was so old that forensic experts could only get seven samples to test. The DNA tests also were so sensitive that they could have picked up the DNA in skin cells or other human cells that had accumulated on the floor over time, prosecutors argued.

The blood, Trusty said, was "a child's way of whispering to you the truth."

CAPTION: Hadden Clark is charged with killing Michele Dorr, 6, in 1986.