A Montgomery County jury late Monday night acquitted Charles D. Terry, a 19-year-old part-time dishwasher, of murdering his mother's best friend with a broken liqueur bottle in January 1980.

The jury handed down the verdict shortly before midnight at the county courthouse in Rockville before Judge Rosalyn B. Bell, ending a 16-month ordeal for Terry, who maintained his innocence from the start.

Terry, whose first trial ended in a mistrial last October, jumped up and tearfully embraced his lawyer as the crowd of about 20 friends and relatives who had packed the courtroom shouted for joy.

"When the jury came back and said they'd reached a verdict, it was the longest wait of my life," recalled Terry's mother Betty Hargus, 46, who said her son had sworn he was innocent "from the day the police put the handcuffs on him."

"It was the most emotional thing I've seen in a long time," said John Monahan, of the county's public defender office, who represented Terry after his mother ran up a $33,000 legal bill paying for her son's defense during his first trial."The jurors shook his hand as he walked out." d

The two-week trial was highlighted by a new witness for the defense who testified that she heard her neighbor Louise Pickering screaming around 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, two hours later than the time she was believed to have been killed in her Silver Spring apartment at 11424 Stewart Lane. By then, Terry was at home with his mother. The witness, Joan Nordby, 26, had not been interviewed by police when they questioned suspects, according to Monahan.

It was Terry who found Louise Pickering lying dead in a green bathrobe on her apartment floor the next morning. The sandy-haired youth, then 17, had been dispatched by his mother to check on Pickering after she failed to show up for the morning shift at the Irish Inn, where she was a part owner and waitress. Terry had worked sporadically as a dishwasher at the Irish Inn and the defense argued that Pickering had been "a second mother" to him.

According to court testimony, Pickering had been struck on the head with a bottle of Grand Marnier liqueur and had been stabbed in the throat and chest by the broken-off bottle neck.

Discovering Pickering's body, Terry returned to the Irish Inn. When Betty Hargus found blood on her son's shirt, she called the police who subsequently arrested Terry and charged him with murder.

Terry spent seven months in the Montgomery County Detention Center before he was released on bail. Meanwhile, in June, his mother hired a private detective who helped verify her son's alibi by matching glass in his sneakers with glass that had been in the area of an Annapolis warehouse where Terry said he was involved in a marijuana deal.

"I believe Terry was innocent," Monahan said. "The saddest thing about this is that there is someone out there the police didn't catch."