Arlington's Courtroom 601 took on the appearance of a United Nations debate yesterday with installation of an elaborate electronic setup for simultaneous translations in the murder trial of a Spanish-speaking Cuban refugee accused in the beating death of a 72-year-old woman.

Lawyers, witnesses and Judge Charles S. Russell used microphones connected to a maze of gray wires and electronic devices as the trial of Manuel Quintana began. Quintana, 28, described by court officials as penniless, is charged with murder in the beating of Ophelia Quintero, another Cuban refugee, on March 19.

The trial is believed to be the first in Virginia to offer simultaneous translations. Arlington is paying Interpreters.Bureau, a Washington firm, $1,200 a day to provide Spanish language translations at the trial. The fee includes two translators and one technician.

Quintana, who could be setenced to death if convicted, does not understand or speak English. Court officials, mindful of possible appeals, ordered the translation system to ensure that he understands the proceedings.

Rachel Ballow-Mosbo, a legal assistant with the Arlington prosecutor's office, developed the translation procedure after an April 6 pretrial hearing for Quintana became bogged down by efforts to provide consecutive translations for the defendant.

Ballow-Mosbo described the setup provided yesterday for the trial as "technically . . . a very simple and compact system which is working quite effectively. The defense is placed on record that the defendant can fully understand the proceedings."

Aside from occasional interruptions where witnesses and attorneys were asked to speak more directly into the microphones, there were no technical difficulities.

During yesterday's opening arguments, Quintana was the only person in the courtroom who was listening continuously to the proceedings in Spanish. There were 49 other headsets in the room, available for members of the injury, the judge and lawyers, but they were rarely in use.

Defense attorney Benjamin Kendrick is arguing that Quintana did not kill Quintero, but was framed. Kendrick contends that articles found in Quintana's car, which were taken from Quintero's apartment, were put there by someone else.

Prosecutors, led by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kenneth Melson, argued that Quintana was an acquaintance of the victim and entered her apartment at 748 S. Florida St. and stole money and other property before bludgeoning her to death with a hammar.

The trial is expected to continue until the middle of next week.