Using a last-minute and unusual legal maneuver, Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney William S. Burroughs yesterday postponed the murder trial of Richard Lee Earman minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

Burroughs asked Arlington Circuit Court Judge Charles S. Russell to dismiss the indictment against Earman that charged him with the murders of real estate salesman Alan Foreman and his fiancee, Donna Shoemaker, who were found shot to death on May 8. Russel agreed to dismiss the charges against Earman "without prejudice," meaning that Burroughs could reinstate the charges in the future.

Immediately before the charges were dismissed, however, Earman was arrested on a new charge of entering Foreman's home at 1201 N. George Mason Dr., "with the intent to commit murder while armed with a deadly weapon," a felony that carries a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment.

Earman's attorney, John K. Zwerling, charged in court that Burroughts' motion was simply a "tactical strategy" by which Burroughs could gain the postponement in the trial that Russell denied him last week.

Burroughs denied in court that he had dismissed the charges simply to get the trial postponed, although he and Zwerling said his legal maneuvers occurs "very infrequently."

Later, the prosecutor said that he had been prepared to go trial on schedule until he received "significant new information" in the case late Sunday night. He refused to comment on the new information.

The postponement of Earman's trial underscored the mystery that has surrounded the murder of Shoemaker and Foreman. They were found shot to death in Foreman's blood-spattered yellow Jaguar in the closed garage of his home after returning from the popular Georgetown discotheque, Tramps.

Tales of Foreman's fast life on the discotheque circuit and of his still unexplained last-minute search for money soon followed the discovery of their bodies. Last week Burroughs said in court that he had new information that might not only lead to new defendants in the case, but might in fact change his theory of the case against Earman, and two other defendants who remain charged with the murders, Joseph N. Martin and Charles Silcox.

Earman remained in the Arlington jail without bond yesterday after General Distric Court Judge Richard Corman denied him bail on the new charge.

A preliminary hearing on the new charge was scheduled Aug. 10. If at that time, "probable cause" is found that a crime was committed and that Earman committed it the case would then go before the grand jury later in August.

Earman has been held without bond since June 1, when a grand jury indicted him. Martin and Silcox on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a firearm to commit murder, and robbery. Martin and Silcox are free on $10,000 bond each.

"How can a man be presumed innocent until proved guilty and still be held for so long without bond?" Zwerling asked after Earman had been taken back to jail.

Friends say Earman has been increasingly despondent over his imprisonment. He had requested an immediate trial after his indictment last month, but the trial had been set first for July 18, and then, at the request of prosecutors for yesterday.

Earman's present incarceration is not his first experience with the penal system. In 1968, he was convicted for his part in what police called the "Beltway burglaries" of 1966, in which more than 5,000 Washington-area homes were broken into.

Earman, according to friends, regarded his years in prison following that conviction as "unspeakably horrible" and had said that he would kill himself rather than return to prison.

Earman himself strongly maintained his innocence in a recent interview with The Post. He said it was not until he read a newspaper that he realized that Foreman and Shoemaker had been shot to death. "I couldn't believe they were dead," he said in the interview.

Both Foreman, 26 and Shoemaker, 25 were shot in the head with a 32-caliber pistol.

Prosecutors allege in court papers that Earman arranged for the pair to be at their home late at night so that they could be killed. Then, the prosecutors charge, Earman tried to make the crime look like a burglary. They said a garage window was broken, the dead couple was robbed, and Shoe-maker's wallet was taken into the District to Columbia and thrown onto a street to make it appear as if the "burglars" had returned to Washington.

Prosecutors also allege in court papers that Foreman was killed so that others could cash in on the dead man's insurance policy. Martin, and agent for New York Life Insurance Co., sold Foreman a $56,000 policy, to which Silcox was named the beneficiary on Feb. 8.

According to Earman, he met Foreman about a month before he was slain - at an awards banquet sponsored by Town and County Properties, the real estate company for which both were agents.

"He was a member of the million dollar sales club and I wanted to meet him and find out how he did it," Earman recalled. "But I couldn't just go up to him. He was a star and I was a nobody. We had no friends in common. So I called him up and posed as a property buyer."

Earman disguised himself in a hat, sunglasses and a bandage on the side of his face because he said, "I didn't want him to remember me from the awards banquet." Earman looked at homes with Foreman and probed him for sales techniques.

When Foreman subsequently discovered the charade, Earman said he apologized Foreman and took him to lunch "for taking up all his time."

The two got together to discuss business four or five times before Foreman was shot, Earman said. Two or three days before the murder, they had talked about buying a piece of property along Rte. 7 in Virginia and trying to quickly resell it for a profit.

Earman said that Foreman told him that "he knew somebody who had a lot of money, somebody who would buy the property, a man who lived in New Jersey."

On Monday, May 9, the day after Foreman's and Shoemaker's bodies were discovered, police scheduled a routine appointment with Earman, according to a police affidavit, but Earman did not show up. Later, when police did interview him, Earman told them he had not had any contact with Foreman since May 4, and then only by telephone, according to the affidavit.

The prosecution alleges in court papers that Earman lied to police and to Zwerling before and after his arrest on June 7, and that he and another defendant, Martin, talked several times after the murders about how to cover up the crime.

However, a laboratory analysis of items seized from Earman's residence, including personal clothing and the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag, have yet to prove incriminating, according to informed sourcse.

"Lee didn't do it (the murders), he couldn't have done it, he's just not capable of such a thing," said Josette Shawnm, his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years, in an interview.

She described Earman as a man who grew up in the Pimmit Hills section of Fairfax County, a high school dropout who had the wrong kind of friends and ended up in prison. Since his release from prison in 1974, she said, Earman has been determined never to get into trouble again. For a while, she said, Earman worked long hours in a frozen food warehouse, working "until his hands cracked from the cold," and studying real estate at night."

When Earman received his real estate license in 1975, Shawn said, he came to her apartment shouting, "I got it! I got it - baby, my star is rising."

With Earman's trial now put off indefinitely, it is unclear whether he will be tried before or after his two codefendants, Martin and Silcox.

According to informed sources. Martin is claiming that Foreman asked him to raise some money for an alleged real estate deal that Foreman was trying to put together.

According to sources, Martin gave Foreman $2,000 last Feb. 8 and $1,500 about three weeks later, he raised the money from friends, according tot these sources, because he had loaned Foreman $1,000 the previous November for another real estate deal and was paid back two weeks later with $500 interest.

Foreman, according to these sources, requested that Martin asked lenders to falsely assure any questioners that they had lent more than the total of $3,500 - specifically that the amount was about $0,000. Neither informed sources nor police have been able to explain why Foreman might have asked Martin to do this.

With Foreman's approval, Martin changed the beneficiary of Forman's $56,000 life insurance policy from Foreman's mother to Silcox on Feb. 8. Silcox, one of those who had lent money to Foreman, was to pay $100 a month on the premium as part of the $3,500 loan arrangement, according to these sources.

Martin, 26, is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School and George Mason in 1972 with a degree in business and public adminstration and managed shoe stores at Tysons Corner and Springfield Mall before joining Ney York Life about two years ago.

Martin recently was suspended from his duties at New York Life when he received a letter from the company which said, "In view of the grand jury charges now pending against you, your authority to represent (New York Life) as an apprentice field underwriter is now suspended." The suspension would continue, the letter said, until his situation was "clarified."

Silcox is a 32-year-old district manager for Door Store, Inc., who lives with a roommate in Burke. He has one drug conviction. Silcox has been married three times, and Martin is married to one of his former wives.

Police in Arlington and in the District oof Columbia haave searched for links between the deaths of Foreman and Shoemaker and that of Alexei Goodarzi, the Washington maitre d' who was shot to death in his car on May 12. All three were shot with a .32 caliber pistol upon arriving home in early morning hours. The guns and type of ammunition used in the killings were different, however, and police say they have found no connection.