It was late in 1976, just after the youth entered Ballou Senior High School, that his parents said they began to see the drastic and at times bizarre changes in their son's behavior.

He would talk out loud to himself, beg for help and cry out to die, his stepfather said. He walked the floors in his Southeast Washington home, suffered disturbing dreams and "lived in a world of fear," according to his stepfather.The youth, identified as Mark F. Roberts, began to skip school and he became moody and belligerent.

They had smelled the faint odor of marijuana in their home, the parents said, and later learned that their son's world had become built around drugs and liquor. The youth had become a regular user of the hallucinogenic drug phencyclidine (PCP) - known on the streets as "angel dust."

"We made the tragic mistake of thinking it would go away . . ." the stepfather said in a letter to Judge Alfred Burka at the D.C. Superior Court.

"We called many people trying to get help. We got all kinds of advice which didn't help any of us . . . most of all" their son, the stepfather said.

Months later, in March 1977, just before 8 p.m., a young man walked into the Wah Nan Restaurant in Southwest Washington, armed with a pistol and said, "This is a stick up," according to court records.

Moments later, one of the restaurant employes was dead and another was critically injured. The gunman and an accomplice, who stoo watch at the door-fled.

Eighth day later, the youth from Balou High School then just 16 years old was arrested and eventually charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted armed robbery and other charges.

The youth pleaded guilty to the murder charge after the government said it could prove he had planned the robbery and had instructed his accomplice, who was also arrested, on his part in the holdup, according to assistant U.S. Attorney Alexia Morrison. Last February, Judge Burka sent the youth to the Lorton Youth Center for observation before sentencing. It was there, according to court records, that officials determined there was "nothing other than drugs to explain (the youth's) drastic change in behaviour and involvement in the case."

In a letter to Burka, D.C. Parole Board member Joan A. Burt described the youth as reportedly a heavy user of marijuana and angel dust and noted that the murder charge was the first adult offense for the youth, now 17 years old.