Government prosecutors told a D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday that Gary Winston Jaggers had embarked on a "rampage of terror and murder" in the Southeast Washington neighborhood where Jaggers is accused of slaying three elderly residents and robbing a fourth in a four-week period last year.

Jaggers, a 17-year-old drifter from Alexandria who is being tried as an adult, also has been indicted in the slaying of a fourth elderly victim for which he will be tried separately. He could receive a life prison term if he is convicted in any of the three killings.

The three slaying victims all lived within one block of each other on Oakwood Street SE in a once tranquil Congress Heights neighborhood just south of St. Elizabeths Hospital. Jaggers was charged with beating to death Burwell McLelland Davis, 88, on Dec. 16; Julia Gambil, 65, on Dec. 12, and J. Marie Schneck, 81, on Nov. 22. He also is charged with robbing John Nelson, 80.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Bowman told the jury in the first day of Jaggers' trial yesterday that part of the government's evidence is a statement Jaggers gave to police after his arrest last January in which Jaggers allegedly acknowledged involvement in the crimes.

"The evidence will show a great deal," said Jaggers' defense attorney, Randy Bellows, that "these four individuals were the victims of brutal, horrible crimes. But evidence will show Mr. Jaggers did not commit these offenses."

It appeared from Bellows' initial arguments that Jaggers' defense will center on an attack on the defendant's statement to police. The statement was admitted into evidence by Judge Annice M. Wagner over objections from the defense.

Bellows alleged that police extracted the statement while Jaggers was "high as a kite on cocaine," that Jaggers, after being questioned by police for seven hours, would have told them anything they wanted to hear, and that he was the victim of "psychological coercion that was just as effective as if they had beaten him.

"The homicide squad was under a great deal of pressure from the community to crack this case, to arrest someone," Bellows said. Jaggers "just wanted to get out of there and get to sleep."

Jaggers was arrested Jan. 27 in a largely abandoned building at 3281 15th Pl. SE. A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered him held in lieu of $500,000 bond at the time. He originally was indicted on 49 criminal charges.

Bowman said that some of the murder victims were sexually assaulted, and that besides Jaggers's statement, investigators were able to link Jaggers to the Davis murder through a sneaker footprint in Davis' residence and to the Gambill killing through a fingerprint that matched Jaggers'.

The government's case continues today.