"It was just like a roaring in my ears and then, um, it just came to me, you know, he . . . Just small talk like that, you know, it just wasn't registering. What I was going to do now, you know, and how this would affect my family, you know. And, and just, just all the time knowing he's going to go out and, and lie to the press and, and tell them, you know, that I, I wasn't a good supervisor, and that people didn't want me.

"And then that was it. Then I, I just shot him. That was it. It was over."

SAN FRANCISCO--The confession of Dan White, who will be released from prison this Friday, was taped inside a small interrogation room at San Francisco Police headquarters and played at full length before the jury charged with determining whether White had acted with malice and premeditation when he killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first open homosexual ever elected to public office here. Much was made of the composition of the White jury; it included no racial minorities, no homosexuals, no one from well-bred Pacific Heights or the shabbiest corners of the projects. These were working- and middle-class people, raised so like Dan White: a mechanic, several housewives, a retired beauty parlor operator. They believed in God. They favored the death penalty. A few of them wept as they listened to White confess.

"And then I saw Harvey Milk's side across the hall at the supervisors . . . And I said, 'Well, I'll go talk to him . . .' And, ah, it just didn't make any impression on him. I started to say, you know, how hard I worked for it and what it meant to me and my family and then my reputation as a hard worker, good honest person. And he just kind of smirked at me, as if to say, 'Too bad.' And then I just got all flushed and, and hot. And I shot him."

Here is some of what the jury learned, over the course of Dan White's trial: that in November 1978 Dan White resigned from his seat on the Board of Supervisors, recanted, asked Moscone to reappoint him, and discovered through an inquiring reporter that the mayor had decided against it. They learned that on the morning of Nov. 27 White, a former police officer and fire fighter, loaded his gun, put 10 extra bullets in his pocket, had an aide drive him to City Hall, ignored the front entrance (with its large metal detector), climbed in through a basement window and went up to see the mayor.

The jurors learned that White reloaded his gun after shooting Moscone, although it was not clear if he reloaded immediately, as police are said to do by training, or if it was a few moments later to prepare to shoot Milk. They learned that White and Milk had developed an odd friendship at City Hall and had spoken favorably about each other, and that White was "a man I was proud to know and be associated with," according to the testimony of the police inspector who had obtained the confession from his old friend Dan White. They learned that White had been financially strapped and had felt extreme emotional pressure that one psychiatrist argued was linked to his consumption of "what we call junk food," in this instance principally Twinkies and Coca-Cola.

The prosecution, to the increasing dismay of some watching the trial, never called certain witnesses who were prepared to testify that White seemed to them a bully. White's feelings about homosexuality--as a supervisor he had said that public displays of homosexual affection offended family people--were never discussed. Dan White's wife sat in the courtroom throughout the trial, but George Moscone's widow and children did not. The San Francisco medical examiner, as writer Mike Weiss reveals in his forthcoming book about the killings, was prepared to testify that he believed one or both victims would have lived if White had not finished them off with close shots to the head; no one ever asked him the right question. And throughout the trial, scarcely any mention was made of long-running ideological and political battles between White and the generally closer alliance of Moscone and Milk. White knew Milk had urged the mayor to deny his reappointment.

The reasons for these omissions, which have haunted the careers of everyone who built the prosecution's case, are hotly debated here to this day. Explicit or unspoken conspiracy, some old-boy affinity between the prosecutors and the former police officer on trial, was suggested by angry gays. It was said that politics were kept out of the testimony because the prosecution feared for San Francisco's reputation; or that Moscone's reputed infidelities might be raised, wounding his widow in public; or that discussing Milk's homosexuality in any detail might turn the jury toward White; or that the defense might bring up the fact that the district attorney's office had for some time employed a high-ranking member of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, which had horribly come apart only nine days before the City Hall killings.

"The thing was, if you didn't have a political element in that trial, then you didn't have a motivation," says Weiss. And for 12 men and women looking every day at this quiet, upright young man so clearly one of their own, motivation was of the essence if they were to describe this act as anything but a mental aberration. "If Dan White had been a black guy, and his story was 'My kid didn't have any food for supper, so I went to the corner store for a loaf of bread and a pack of bologna, and I felt all this horrible pressure . . . The guy grabbed me, I just didn't want to do it, and I cracked, and I pulled out my pocketknife, and I stabbed him, and my head was ringing--' " Weiss snaps his fingers. "He would have been laughed out of court. Gas chamber. Bye-bye."

The prosecutors, who have spent what by their own account are some of the least pleasant moments of their lives reexplaining their handling of the case, said none of the background information was necessary--that an attorney rarely sees such an open-and-shut case of premeditated murder. "For 13 years I've worked on hundreds of cases," says Frank Falzon, the inspector who took White's confession and still smoulders at the suggestion that as an old friend he guided White into emphasizing the emotional pressure that drove him to kill. "The bottom line is always the same. It's like a big puzzle, and you try to come up with as many pieces of the puzzle as you can. On the Dan White case, the investigators had 100 percent of the pieces. It was the most complete puzzle I've ever worked on."

But the law was key. California judicial history provided for a defense that in legal shorthand is called "diminished capacity," meaning that what might be ruled first- or second-degree murder could be reduced if the jury found that for reasons such as mental illness, the defendant lacked the "capacity to premeditate" or the "capacity to have malice." If he was found to lack both, meaning he had killed without malice and premeditation, then he had committed voluntary manslaughter. It was an effort to make more flexible the far stricter standards of legal insanity tests--precisely the sort of defense-oriented argument that people like Dan White loathed.

Cleve Jones, a gay political aide who led many marches down the boulevard between Castro Street and City Hall, got a telephone call from a radio reporter just before the verdict was announced. The reporter wanted immediacy, Jones' instant reaction to the live announcement, and he asked Jones to hold on for a moment as they awaited the decision. The reporter put the receiver down. And then from somewhere in the radio station, Cleve Jones heard the cry: "Oh, my Christ. They let him off."

Dan White had been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The maximum allowable sentence, taking both killings into consideration, was seven years, eight months. With credit for time served and time off for good behavior--both also mandated by law--Dan White would be would be out of prison in just over five years.

In the bathroom, nauseated, Cleve Jones splashed cold water on his face. His Castro Street apartment, long a meeting place for politically active gays, was filling rapidly with men who had heard the news, and when Jones emerged they strode down to the intersection where the gay stretch of Castro Street formally begins. Demonstrations and celebrations had pulled homosexuals to this corner many times before, Harvey Milk often shouting fervently among them as they spilled out from the essentially private terrain of Castro Street and began marching, 20 and 30 abreast, down the wide boulevard that passes City Hall and the downtown department stores and the tall financial buildings. Now Cleve Jones took the lead, Harvey Milk's bullhorn in his hand. "I saw what the bullets did," he cried, because he had; he had been at City Hall Nov. 27 and had never shaken the memory of Milk's head flopping back as the police officers turned the body over.

It was plain at once that this march would not be like the others. "I knew it was going to happen even as we were marching to City Hall," says Jones, who in the aftermath publicly defended himself against charges that he helped instigate what has since become known as the White Night Riot. "The rage in people's faces--I saw people I'd known for years, and they were so--" he hesitates. "Furious. That to me was the scariest thing. All these people I'd known from the neighborhood, boys from the corner, these people I'd ridden the bus with, just out there, screaming for blood."

What they attacked, finally, was City Hall. Gay leaders tried to lock arms, in a futile effort to protect the elaborate, domed building Harvey Milk so loved, but the smashing of the great glass doors set the full frenzy loose in the darkness, rocks and chunks of concrete flying, trash cans afire, branches ripped from trees, chants rising and breaking above the bullhorn appeals to calm. Police cars went up in flames, one by one, until burning squad cars lit the entire length of City Hall plaza.

And the police, under orders from the Moscone-appointed chief they resented already, simply tried to hold their ground and keep the violence from escalating. It was not until several hours after the first smashing of glass that police officers, many of them by then frightened and humiliated, began massive sweeps of the plaza. They used clubs. When they had cleared the City Hall area, police showed up on Castro Street. The bar they chose was one of the new generation of gay bars, open, unashamed, generous in its window glass. There are many reports of what the officers shouted as they smashed their way through the Elephant Walk with badge numbers carefully hidden from view, but the cry repeated in most accounts afterward was "Banzai!"

It was complicated, gays and the San Francisco police. There were gay officers, and the straight officers played softball every year against a gay team. But there were also men in the city police department who believed San Francisco was being invaded by men who performed acts of perversion in public places--as though the swelling number of racial minorities was not trouble enough--and that Harvey Milk and George Moscone had made up the invaders' principal support team. The "Free Dan White" T-shirts had appeared in police locker rooms long before White ever went to trial, and one officer remembers gazing at the wall where one of his colleagues had scrawled in large capital letters: "FREE AN INNOCENT MAN WHO WAS FOR THE PEOPLE. FREE DAN WHITE."

Fifteen people sued the police department in the aftermath of the White Night Riot; most of the suits have been settled or dropped, although the attorney for one man who allegedly was beaten says his client has not yet fully assessed the damage from his injuries. Arrests were held to a minimum, most arising from vandalism or looting. A 1980 study estimated the damage to the city at $200,000. And when Cleve Jones is asked how he felt afterward about the night homosexuals attacked City Hall, he looks for a moment as though he is trying not to smile.

"I felt satisfied," he says. Then he says, "I regret saying that already," but his gaze is direct. Jones is a slight young man, by his own description a childhood sissy, and the day after the riot he sat near some grade-school black children on a San Francisco bus that was nearing City Hall. "Man, did you see the television last night?" one boy cried to his friend. "Those gay people kicked a--!"

"I just smiled and thought to myself, 'That's right,' " says Jones. " 'That's right.' Now see, that little boy's five years older now. And there's one straight kid who doesn't think gays are weak."

It gives people like Cleve Jones a particular satisfaction to talk about Dan White's legacy to San Francisco's gays: he fortified them, helped ensure that a homosexual would succeed Harvey Milk (a gay man, who still serves on the Board of Supervisors, was appointed to Milk's seat), and made no perceptible difference in the steady immigration of gays abandoning more hostile terrain. Castro Street has changed since 1978, its raw eroticism subdued by AIDS; gay entrepreneurs have so dressed up the three-block stretch of businesses that activists of the old gay left look pained when they talk about the street they once loved. Harvey Milk's furiously political camera store is now a fashionable little shop that sells peach porcelain vases and cunning table clocks and the kind of costly lamps that are probably referred to by salespeople as "lighting accessories."

But it is still a thickly male enclave, this street, where aging bearded men exchange decorous goodbye kisses on the corner and a hand-holding couple can duck into stores called All American Boy and Does Your Mother Know. Even on Leland Avenue, where Dan White grew up, they understand the backhanded boost their boy gave to Castro Street. "I think what it's done," says the blue-eyed man who has removed his fishing cap for a haircut in Alfred Cinti's barbershop, "is made a power out of that gay community." The blue-eyed man once hunted for church rummage sale items with Dan White's father.

"You leave them alone, they'll leave you alone," he says. "It's just that they're revolting." At least they have not come to his neighborhood, he adds, and then taps the wall of the barbershop, knocking wood.

There is more that Dan White left behind. Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who replaced Moscone immediately after the killings and was later reelected, is a more conservative politician than her predecessor, and some see an attendant swing in city politics. "Diminished capacity" has been sharply curtailed as a legal defense, restricted by the legislature in 1981 and then expressly abolished by a stiffly "pro-victim" statewide ballot proposition. Last year the state approved legislation forcing felons to set aside for 10 years any profit from the public retelling of their crimes, thereby allowing victims time to file restitution lawsuits. The maximum sentence allowed for voluntary manslaughter has been extended, so that if the White verdict were returned this month, he could spend eight to 12 years in prison.

The plans for White's parole, and the details of his departure from Soledad, are still under speculation. The cities of San Diego and Richmond, Calif., have gone so far as to declare publicly that they do not want him, as have public officials in the county in Ireland where White's relatives were reported to be shopping for land. Feinstein has asked that he remain "as far as possible from San Francisco." State parole officials say it is conceivable that White could spend his one year of parole in another state, if some workable arrangement could be reached, but that no such plan is contemplated as of yet.

On Castro Street, they think Dan White will leave prison with no greater commotion than a hubbub of reporters. No demonstrations are planned now; a small committee is asking people to stay home from work on Friday if they can, or else to stop whatever they are doing from 1 to 1:15 Friday afternoon and, as one of the organizers put it, "make an unholy noise any way you can--bang pots, blow whistles, honk horns, scream . . . We've kind of thought of it as a cathartic 15 minutes."

"The gay community has grown up a lot in these five years," says Scott Smith, the bearded man, a small gold ring in his left ear, who for many years was Harvey Milk's lover. "It's a more responsible community, because we have been integrated so much into the mainstream." When federal authorities announced in November that they would not prosecute White on federal charges, ending any hope that White might be kept in prison, Smith was asked over and over how he believed gays would react.

"There was an anger that day, but it was tempered with this . . . resignation," Smith says, palms up on the table. "It was, 'Well, I guess he'll be out on the sixth.' "

Smith is still for a moment, as though he has not yet fully digested this. He has lived, like every newspaper reader in greater San Francisco, with five years of Dan White, Dan White's physical health and reading preferences and dietary habits, a hoarded collection of Dan White details that have never illuminated and never explained. One reads that Dan White ate "turkey with all the trimmings" on Thanksgiving Day 1980, that he received at least a 3.5 grade point average on the college courses he completed at Soledad, that within his first year of incarceration he lost five to eight pounds, that because of his prison laundry job he was permitted monthly five- to six-hour conjugal visits with his wife, and that while he was awaiting trial in the county jail he persuaded a duty nurse to bring him roast beef sandwiches on white bread, Dreyer's vanilla ice cream and Cadbury chocolates. It was reported that White "glared" when the sandwich man forgot to hold the tomato. His wife's second pregnancy was reported, as was the birth of the baby, a boy, born with Down's syndrome.

Dan White has declined to confirm or deny anything printed about him. He has permitted no interviews. In the letters he wrote the county nurse, which were reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle, he told her about his visits with his family and said he hoped they might have a drink together in Ireland someday. The single record of his having expressed remorse comes from a 1983 interview granted by this nurse, who said she once heard White say, "I guess they were nice guys. Too bad it happened."