A 29-year-old Southeast Washington man confessed in court yesterday that he killed his aunt and uncle in 1978 because he had been haunted for years by childhood memories of their unkind treatment of his grandmother.

"I loved my grandmother," said Melvin Jones, of 123 I St. SE, who is on trial in the slayings of two women and a man in their home in the Randle Highlands section of Southeast Washington.

"She had arthritis and I used to wash her feet because she couldn't . . . One day my aunt cussed my grandmother. . . . I grabbed a knife, but couldn't get her. I stuck the knife in the door and told my aunt I was going to get her."

Jones, who showed no emotion as he told his story to a D.C. Superior Court jury testified that his memories of those events troubled him for years until he decided in September 1978 that his aunt, Virdell Covington, 60, her husband, John 68, and John Covington's deaf sister, Carolyn Bruton, 64, "had to die."

On Sept. 28, Jones testified, he and a friend, Andre Jones, went to his uncle's home at 3028 P St. SE with plans to kill the three people.

Melvin Jones said he and his friend -- the two are not related -- had planned the slayings for a week and had purchased a .38-caliber pistol the night before. They also used four knives, he testified.

Andre Jones was found guilty in February of thress counts of felony murder in the slayings.

"We knocked on the door, but nobody came, so we knocked again," Jones said of the afternoon they went to his uncle's. "Virdell opened the door . . . we went in and sat down for a while."

"Then it [his childhood memories of how his grandmother was treated] all came back to me," Jones testified. "I went in there to kill her [Virdell]. My uncle wasn't there.

"First, I stabbed her," he said. "I stabbed her and then I shot her. All at the same time."

Jones said his uncle arrived at the house after he had killed his aunt. Jones said Andre Jones held the man to the floor as Melvin Jones stabbed him in the head 19 times.

The government contends that Jones -- on trial for 16 counts of murder, burglary and armed robbery -- went to his uncle's home to commit robbery.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney William O'Malley, John Covington was widely known as a "numbers man," a popular form of illegal gambling, and sometimes kept large quantities of money in his home.

During the week-long trial, government witnesses testified that Jones' fingerprints were found in at least two locations at the murder scene, including one palm print in blood on a steak knife used in the stabbing.

In his final statement, O'Malley said Jones committed one of the most "foul acts known to man" when he stabbed his uncle 44 times and also repeatedly stabbed his two aunts.

"Melvin Jones said he planned to kill John and Virdell Covington," O'Malley told the jury. "But these people weren't just killed. These people were killed repeatedly."

Jones' attorney, Grandison Hill, urdged the jury, which began deliberations in the case late yesterday, to be careful in how they evaluated Jones' confession.

"You have to wonder why he sat here and heard all of his government's testimony, and then did this," Hill told the jury. "He gave none of the fine details of one who had lived the incident or who was there. Any one of you, after hearing a week's testimony in this case, could have gotten on the stand and given the same testimony."