A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday sentenced a U.S. Army lieutenant from Houston to serve nine to 27 years in prison for the 1980 murder of his estranged girlfriend.

The lieutenant, Arthur M. Gaines III, 27, was convicted of second-degree murder last November for stabbing Karen Marie Harrod to death in her apartment at 724 Seventh St. SE. He was stationed at Fort Meade, Md., at that time.

During a 90-minute hearing Judge Luke C. Moore said he had received a "wealth of material" on the case, including letters on Gaines' behalf from Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), a Texas circuit judge, the U.S. marshal in Houston and others, urging that Moore not impose a lengthy sentence.

The Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, one of the largest congregations in the District, also wrote Moore a letter on Gaines' behalf and attended yesterday's hearing.

Gaines' lawyer, Kenneth Mundy, argued that Gaines, who has no prior criminal record, should be placed on probation and required to do community service work. Gaines, a college graduate who worked in Army intelligence, comes from a prominent Houston family. His father is a Houston school system official.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Krakoff urged a "substantial" jail period, saying that it was "absolutely inconceivable that a man who committed a deliberate murder" should not be imprisoned.

Moore said he hoped the nine-to-27 year sentence would "reflect and accommodate the various interests" in the case.

The maximum penalty would have been life imprisonment.