Richard Lee Earman, serving a 10-year sentence for conspiring to murder a young Arlington couple, is trying to force prison officials to transfer him for his own protection from a Virginia penal facility to a U.S. penitentiary.

In a suit he filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Earman maintains that he has been "verbally abused and threatened" at the Powhatan State Prison Farm by other inmates aware that his testimony led to the conviction of another man, Joseph N. Martin, in the same murder case.

Earman was acquitted of murder charges in the slayings of Alan Foreman, 26, and Foreman's fiance, Donna Shoemaker, 25. Then, immune from being prosecuted again on the murder charges, he admitted at Martin's trial that he had shot the couple to death in a complex scheme to collect on a life-insurance policy.

Martin was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. Earman, tried on the lesser conspiracy charge, got the maximum for that offense, 10 years.

In his suit, Earman said prosecutors promised him he would be sent to a federal prison for his safety, but he now has spent four months at the state camp at Powhatan.

Arlington prosecutor Henry Hudson said yesterday his office has done everything possible to get federal prison officials to accept Martin as a federal prisoner.

Earman wants the court to order prison officials to move "expeditiously."