When William Timothy Kirk, 36, an accused killer facing a possible death sentence, showed up for tests at an Oak Ridge psychologist's office last month, his court-appointed attorney was waiting.

Mary Evans, 26, watched quietly as three prison guards unshackled her client's leg irons, handcuffs and belly chains. The psychologist, Gary Salk, asked Kirk to write word associations.

"My biggest problem is . . . prison," he wrote. Asked what he did best, he scribbled, "Make dreams reality."

Suddenly Kirk pulled a pistol from his orange prison jump suit, took the guards' .38s and herded them into a back office.

And then his lawyer went to work. She cut the telephone cords, helped bind the guards with tape from her purse and took turns holding the gun, Salk recalled. He was taped, too, and was told to lie on the floor.

"She was cool as ice," Salk said later. "Kirk was rather cool, too, but he seemed more nervous than she did."

Kirk changed into dark pants and a jacket, apparently supplied by Evans, and took $25 from Salk's wallet. The couple slipped out past a wall poster that read "This is the first day of the rest of your life," and disappeared in Evans' red Toyota.

A week earlier, Evans had come to Salk's office after getting a court order for the mental tests. She asked whether he had a receptionist (he doesn't). She asked whether Kirk would be manacled. She checked out the exits.

"I guess she was casing the joint," Salk said.

Kirk's murder trial on charges of killing two black inmates in a Tennessee prison began this week in nearby Wartburg, and went to the jury yesterday.

Evans, who comes from a religious, upper-middle-class family, has been charged in federal fugitive warrants with kidnaping, armed robbery and aiding Kirk's escape. Both are wanted by the FBI.

"This is the first case I know of where a lawyer has actually helped a client escape the penitentiary," said Steve Watson, assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The case ranks also as an unlikely love story, part Patricia Hearst, part Bonnie and Clyde.

Evans not only left behind a strict, Bible Belt upbringing in the rolling foothills of East Tennessee, a former husband and a family that fears for her life, but stunned colleagues and a distraught sweetheart, John Lockridge.

"Am I hurt? Who wouldn't be?" said Lockridge, 48, a divorce lawyer. Like others, he finds it impossible to reconcile accounts of the escape with the Mary Pentecost Evans he knew.

Friends portray her as a bright, strong-willed young lawyer, aloof to all but a few, who hungered to fight cases in court, not the law library.

Evans had recently accepted a new job as a $14,000-a-year public defender in London, Ky. But she planned to finish the Kirk trial before leaving.

At Tipton and Bell, the downtown law firm where she had worked since 1981, Evans was known for her first-class research and for getting deeply involved in clients' cases.

Kirk was her first death penalty case. He was accused of being trigger-man among seven white inmates charged with killing two members of a black gang called the "Memphis Mafia" at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary on Feb. 8, 1982.

Evans expected to be Kirk's chief trial counsel. She made 21 visits to Brushy to read files and take depositions, a prison spokesman said. Some visits lasted 11 hours.

Twice she met with Kirk for five hours. Guards noticed no signs of affection between them. Their conversations were not monitored.

Evans' saga has sparked debate in the shaken legal establishment here about how closely young lawyers should be supervised in dealings with criminal clients. Her boss, James A.H. Bell, became active in the case only as the trial date neared.

"Convicts have incredible sob stories that tug at your heart," said Ladye Hillis, 26, a criminal lawyer who knew Evans. "Mary hadn't learned to keep her distance emotionally. She was young, idealistic, anti-establishment. She felt the system was unfair and that her client was going to be railroaded. Kirk saw a mark and worked it."

Only her closest friends detected any anxiety.

"Mary was terribly frightened that she would lose the case and that her client would die in the electric chair," said one Knoxville lawyer, a confidant who asked not to be identified. "His life was in her hands. It was a heavy burden.

"But even if she won, she knew there was no winning," the friend said. "She knew that Brushy was an absolute jungle and there was nothing the courts could do to protect him in the jungle."

Brushy has a history of racial violence and brutality. James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was stabbed there by black inmates.

Kirk, serving a 65-year term for armed robbery, had been transferred to Brushy for "behavior" problems, prison officials said. Kirk's lawyers said that he, like Ray, was on a hit list when he helped to overpower prison guards last year and moved from cell to cell, shooting alleged black gang members in "self-defense."

At least 13 shots were fired. He reloaded his .25 pistol three times, prosecutors said. Two blacks died. Two were wounded. One escaped harm by wrapping himself in two mattresses.

By contrast, Mary Evans grew up in a ranch-style home high on a hill, as the oldest of two children born to a University of Tennessee vice president and his wife, devout Baptists.

"She means more to me than life itself," said her father, attorney Robert Pentecost. "We've prayed. We've looked for spiritual guidance."

At Doyle High School, Evans, class of 1974, began nursing a rebellious spirit. A flower child in bloom, she wore Earth shoes and no makeup, played in the band and fought "authority and the values we stood for," said the Rev. Lewis Gourley, 57, her former pastor and now with the East Side Baptist Church in Dover, Fla.

"I'm not sure her parents were able to control her," Gourley said. "She was very independent, smart, a freethinker. She could hurt you with her tongue."

At 20, she married Thomas H. Evans, son of a wealthy executive, and whipped through the University of Tennessee in three years. To help put her husband through school she worked as a hotel clerk. They lived in a bungalow on her father's land.

Four years later, they divorced amicably. Friends say she outgrew Evans. She yearned to be a musician, but enrolled at University of Tennessee law school to please her father, friends say.

Evans was graduated in 1981, took a job in Bell's firm and began dating Lockridge before his divorce from his wife of 26 years was final. Evans' father was furious. His disapproval hurt, a close friend said.

"I can see how Mary could fall in love with him," Bell said about Evans' relationship with Kirk.

"Of course, a man in prison can't slap two drinks in your hand, buy you a $25 chicken dinner and take you home. "But he can be real gentle and nice and understand where you're coming from. He can spend hours with you, relate to you as a human being and learn what turns you on. I'm not saying that's what happened with Mary, but . . . ."

"If you want to speculate on a love story," said Lockridge, "why didn't he just tape her up, too, and they could later meet . . . and live happily ever after?"

It was the third escape for Kirk, a bearded con man first arrested for drug possession in Chicago at age 17. He once cut his way out of a Tennessee prison bus, and he escaped from a Nashville jail by hiding in a trash bin.

In 1978, after robbing a Memphis couple at gunpoint in their home, he drew 65 years, moved into the Shelby County jail and earned a reputation as a jailhouse lawyer. Jerry Lucas, an ex-deputy sheriff, marveled at Kirk's ability to sweet-talk women from behind bars.

"Here was a man who could get on the phone and talk women into bringing him money two or three times a week," Lucas said. One day, two women arrived at the same time. One left in a huff, but "he slicked it with her and she came back," Lucas said, laughing.

"He's a real good talker, an excellent talker," said Junine Harmon, Kirk's ex-wife, who works in the Chicago suburbs. "He could make me do things I didn't want to do. I believe that Evans girl just fell into that trap."

Minutes before he escaped, Kirk wrote on his test that what he needed most in life was "someone I can trust with my love." Then he was gone.