Seven years ago, David T. McBride, a Virginia prisoner who had served 3 1/2 years of a 25-year term for selling LSD, escaped while on unguarded furlough, making his way to Sweden where he married, started a small business and earned the respect of the American consul in Stockholm.

Today, however, McBride, 34, sits in a New York City jail cell where he is awaiting extradition to Virginia after a series of coincidences led him to Kennedy International Airport and arrest.

But while McBride's story may sound like an open-and-shut case of an escapee apprehended, behind it lies the tale of a youthful, first-time offender whose arrest in a rural county was a local sensation, whose trial was attended by a high school class, whose wife divorced him and took their child while he served a sentence almost everyone agreed was too long and whose frustrated hopes for an early release were encouraged by the actions of both his prosecutor and judge.

"It's an ordeal that has lasted 12 years and it's still going on," says McBride, who after his airport arrest May 4 wrote a personal appeal to Gov. Charles S. Robb pleading for a pardon. "I can't believe anyone would want me to pay any more than I have already for something I did when I was a youth."

While Robb is awaiting a report before he makes his decision on a pardon, there is at least one person who already has decided he wants McBride back in jail: Richard C. Grizzard, prosecutor for Southampton County, home of the state correctional facility from which McBride escaped.

"My action is to bring him back to Virginia and try him for escape," says Grizzard, commonwealth's attorney there for 15 years. "As I told his wife and told his lawyer, that's my job: to enforce the law in Southampton County."

The tale begins in 1970 when, while passing through the central Virginia county of Bedford on the way to California, McBride, then 21, stopped to visit his grandmother.

"We'd bought some LSD on the street for our trip," says McBride, who admits to being a user of psychedelic drugs at the time. During the visit, a childhood acquaintance sought him out and asked if he would sell some of the drug. Though McBride maintains he was never a drug dealer, he did--a transaction that netted him about $200. "The guy . . . offered such a large amount," he explains. Shortly thereafter McBride was arrested.

"It was the first real drug case in Bedford County and it shocked 'em," says one county official familiar with the case. "I kinda thought he'd be found guilty the minute he walked in the courtroom because he had long, blond hair and a T-shirt with rockets goin' off on it."

Says McBride, "They even had a high school class come in and watch as an example of what happens to people like me."

But even so, McBride wasn't prepared for the 50-year sentence the jury handed down. "I couldn't believe it, that people could sit there and sentence a man to something like that," he says. The sentence later was reduced to 25 years after the judge ruled it was excessive.

Over the next two years, during which time he was out on bond while he unsuccessfully appealed his conviction, McBride gave up drugs, married, worked as a carpenter, fathered a child and, in his words, "accepted Christ. I was living a respectable life, and they the judge and prosecutor saw a complete change in me." As a result, according to a knowledgeable local source, the judge indicated he would have no objection to McBride's attempts to win an early release, while the then-prosecutor, Harry Garrett, says he recalls offering to write a letter in McBride's behalf.

"They clobbered him with that 50 years," says Garrett, now a private lawyer in Bedford.

But by 1975, after 3 1/2 years in prison, after his wife had obtained a divorce and moved to Florida with the couple's child, McBride was in despair. "I'd hoped that people'd have mercy," he says. "But that hope just kept dying and dying and dying until there was just nothing left."

So, in July of that year, while on a furlough to his parents' Lynchburg home, McBride, until then a model prisoner, sold his carpenter's tools ("I was never going to use them again, anyway.") and slipped out of the house to begin an odyssey that eventually landed him in Sweden with the woman who was to become his second wife.

He immediately approached Swedish authorities and informed them of his past, says his Swedish wife, Maria. "They let him stay, only with the condition that he must visit them every three months."

McBride eventually started a small sailboat-building firm in Stockholm. And when his son was born, he approached the United States Embassy to make certain the child would be an American citizen. At that time, he informed American Consul Robert F. Dorr of his past. Dorr says McBride impressed him as a "decent, law-abiding, religious individual."

But it was here that the first of several coincidences and misunderstandings occurred that eventually were to land him in a New York jail.

"I checked out with American authorities elsewhere what he told me," says Dorr. Nothing turned up, he says, so it appeared that McBride no longer was wanted for escape. As a result, Dorr issued McBride an American passport.

A few months later, McBride found himself in the Caribbean on business. When it came time to leave, he found all planes to Sweden booked for the next 12 days. The only alternative was to fly to Sweden via New York's Kennedy International Airport.

"I thought, 'I'll just be changing planes from one international flight to another,' " he says with a slight Swedish accent. "Besides, I knew from him Dorr that there was nothing on the federal computer about me."

So when he stepped off the plane and discovered that he would have to go through customs, he felt no concern. And he still was unconcerned when the customs agent looked up from a computer terminal, gave him a "funny look" and led him to a back room.

"They asked me, 'Have you ever been to Virginia?' and when they asked that, I knew the end had come."

Now McBride is waiting for Tuesday when he will waive extradition and be transferred back to Virginia. Meanwhile, both Dorr and Garrett say they will write letters in his behalf.

For his part, McBride is resigned to his fate. "I have Christ in my life," he says, "so I pray and God gives me strength. It has to be over soon, anyway."