When Linda Denise Givens was found alongside a curb in the 300 block of New York Avenue NE on the morning of March 5, D.C. police first thought that she had been the victim of a hit-and-run driver. But when she was taken to the Washington Hospital Center, doctors discovered that she had been shot once in the chest. Before they could learn her identity, the 15-year-old girl died.

Yesterday, city homicide detectives arrested and charged James Russell Gray, III, 31, an employe with St. Elizabeths Hospital, with second-degree murder. He later was released by D.C. Superior Court Judge Fred Ugast on a $1,000 cash bond.

Police said that when they searched Gray's home on Rte. 224 in Marbury, Md. following his arrest, they found two handguns.

For D.C. homicide detectives, the arrest culiminated what Capt. Jimmy L. Wilson called "the most difficult case so far this year."

The investigation also unveiled the life of Linda Givens, a teenage runaway from San Diego whose involvement in prostitution ended violently on the streets of Washington.

Police said that Givens was the third prostitute killed here during the past two years.

Givens appeared older than she was, and the white jumpsuit that she wore on the day she was shot was cut low to reveal the morning glory flower tattooed on the left side of her back. She had bleached blond hair, stood about 5-feet-4, and weighed l40 pounds. She had brown eyes and a light brown complexion. She would have been 16 on March 10.

"She was out in the fast lane with the pimps, going back to when she was 13, hanging out, smoking weed and locking up herself from me," her mother, Joyce Givens, recalled yesterday in a telephone interview from San Diego. "It got to the point where I just had to live with it. I tried everything except putting her in juvenile hall, and the reason I didn't do that was because I thought she would grow up to hate me."

Janet Givens, 14, said that she and her sister had been "like twins," but that Linda had developed faster and "men began to turn her head." Lured by the street life, Linda dropped out of high school during the ninth grade.

"She grew up too fast," Janet said. "At first she liked it, then she began regretting the changes and began to feel like she had to prove she could handle it."

On March 6, the day after Givens died, police ran a fingerprint check on her and discovered that she had several aliases in police files across the country, from San Francisco to Miami. She had been jailed frequently and often had been beaten by her pimps as a consequence.

Four days after the murder, a group of prostitutes pressured the girl's pimp to tell police which of the names was correct. When Givens' identity was established, police determined that she had checked into D.C. General Hospital on Dec. 6 and had given birth to a child. From there, she was traced to San Diego, where she had gone to leave the baby with her mother. Police then learned that Givens had returned to Washington two weeks before she was slain.

When the D.C. Medical Examiner established the time of the shooting at approximately 4:50 a.m., police Lt. Wyndell C. Watkins proposed to Wilson that a roadblock be established along New York Avenue at that same time on the same day the following week. Wilson approved the "flea flicker play," as detectives call this technique, and more than 500 motorists were stopped and interviewed.

It worked. One driver said that he had seen a woman who matched Givens' decription dumped from a car, and gave police a description of the man and the car.

That same morning, March 12, the police auto squad began looking for the car while police artists made a composite sketch of the suspect. Last Thursday, homicide detectives Theodore Manjoras and William L. Hennessy, devised an undercover operation to look for a man believed to frequent the 14th Street area.

At 1:55 a.m. yesterday, Officer James Shaffer, a uniformed patrolman from the 2d District station, spotted a man who resembled the suspect and detained him.

Manjoras and Hennessy were on the scene, and the suspect was arrested and charged.

The funeral for Linda Givens was held last Thursday at Mission Village Southern Baptist Church in San Diego.

"Three weeks before this happened, I got down on my knees with my daughter and we prayed that God would send her home," Joyce Givens recalled. "I told Him that I couldn't handle any more. I told Him I could not do my job and His job, too."