A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday set bond at $2,500 for the man D.C. police said used a 12-year-old Anacostia girl to help him sell heroin in Southeast Washington. The girl was released to her mother following a Juvenile Court hearing.

Ralph Elliott Magruder, 34, who told police he lives with his sister at 2641 Barney Pl. SE., was charged with distribution of heroin and possession of the drug with the intent to distribute it.

The girl, whom authorities declined to identify, was charged with the same offenses and pleaded not guilty before her release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ava Abramowitz told Superior Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. that Magruder is unemployed and suffers from a drug problem. Court records indicated that he had taken heroin Tuesday, the day D.C. narcotics officers arrested him and the girl in the 2400 Block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.

Narcotics branch detective Roswell Yates said Magruder is not a known major dealer. He described him as a "street dude" who, he said, used the child to shield himself from detection. Police said the girl apparently has never used drugs.

Judge Kennedy set Magruder's preliminary hearing for May 13.

Although Magruder does not face charges stemming from the girl's alleged involvement, his court-appointed attorney, James Jones, said he expects the girl will be an issue in the case. Police said the girl carried about $600 worth of heroin in a backpack.

Jones told Kennedy during the arraignment that allegations that his client enlisted the girl to help him sell heroin were unfounded.

Narcotics detective Charlie Beard said he was startled to learn that someone so young might have been involved in the sale of heavy drugs. He said it is much more common to find youngsters in their mid-teens selling marijuana or PCP.

A spokesman for the department's youth bureau said he agreed. "But kids living around are bound to see it," he added. "Kids see the dealers with the things they want. Unfortunately, it is all out there in the streets."

Detective Yates called the girl a "holder." Police said she allegedly kept the adult suspect's heroin until he arranged a transaction on the street. Once a deal was accomplished, he would accept the money, then get the drug from the "holder" to pass to the buyer.

Yates said such a division of labor in a drug-selling scheme is commonplace; sometimes, he said, a third person is added to handle the money. He said the rationale is to confuse police and prevent anyone's being arrested with both the incriminating money and drugs in their possession.

Another reason, Yates explained, is for street survival. "No one would suspect a little girl was holding the drugs ," Yates said. "It ensured the safety of his drugs."

Beard said police witnessed several transactions in which the girl was involved. He said she cried when she was arrested after a chase.