Three men were indicted yesterday on murder charges in the shooting death of Arlington police officer John W. Buckley, 26, during a bank robbery almost exactly two years ago.

If convicted of murdering a police officer, the three could be sentenced to death in Virginia's electric chair.

Two of the three suspects indicted by an Arlington grand jury are already in custody, serving sentences for unrelated bank robberies. They are Donald Eugene Anderson, an inmate at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas, and Theodore Lawler, who is in a Florida prison. The third, Jose Otero of Las Vegas, is still at large.

Buckley, a 4 1/2-year veteran of force, was gunned down April 15 1977, while responding to a call for a bank robbery in progress at the Virginia National Bank branch at Columbia Pike and S. Glebe Road.

A large wreath of red and white carnations was placed beneath Buckley's picture in the lobby of the police department yesterday by the local Police Beneficiary Association.

Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney William S. Burroughs said that Anderson, Lawler and Otero were identified as suspects in Buckley's slaying 18 months ago, but Anderson and Lawler were facing criminal charges in other states. For that reason, Burroughs said, "we've had difficulty collecting evidence in this case."

Some officers were critical yesterday of the delay in obtaining the indictments, although they refused to be identified by name.

Some have accused Burroughs, who is running for a second four-years term as prosecutor, of being more interested in prosecuting a 1977 double-murder case involving Richard Lee Earman than in the Buckley case.

Earman was acquitted of murder charges but later pleaded guilty to conspring with another man to murder an Arlington couple. Burroughs, who was critical of the police in that case, took over the investigation saying that the prosecution was hampered by inadequate police work.

Recalling that criticism, one high-ranking police official remarked angrily yesterday: "I'm sure he [Burroughs] is going to say that nothing would have happened" in the Buckley case "until he built a fire under the police department."

Reached on vacation in Florida yesterday, Burroughs denied neglecting the Buckley case.

"That's completely inaccurate," he said. "The police have been working very hard on this case and, contrary to what they might think, I generally do not run investigations. The main reason for the delay has been criminal cases in other states over which we have had no control."

Burroughs described the three suspects as middle-aged and said Anderson and Otero are from the Washington area. He said Otero allegedly drove the getaway car and that Anderson and Lawler, indicted on robbery and firearms charges in addition to murder, were allegedly the "insidemen" who shot Buckley. He said $20,000 taken from the bank has not been recovered.