A D.C. Superior Court grand jury yesterday indicted a Northeast Washington man on a charge of second degree murder in the starvation death of his 9-month-old son earlier this year.

The indictment charges Keith Lynn Roddy, 29, with "failing to perform his legal duty of providing the food and health care necessary to the well-being" of his son. If he is convicted of the charge, he could face a sentence of up to life in prison.

Roddy's son, also named Keith, was found dead by authorities Jan. 26 at Roddy's apartment atop a barber shop on Benning Rd. NE. D.C. Medical Examiner James Luke ruled that the infant died of starvation "due to neglect," calling the incident the first such death in the city since 1971.

A second boy, 2 1/2-year-old Lynn Roddy, was found in the apartment suffering from severe malnutrition. He survived after hospital treatment.

The elder Roddy was also charged in yesterday's indictment with cruelty to children, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Roddy, according to court testimony by police and city social workers, allegedly told authorities after his arrest that he was unemployed and unable to take care of his children and had unsuccessfully sought help for them from city agencies.

Law enforcement sources described the second degree murder charge as unusual for such a case, saying that defendants in cases of deaths involving neglect traditionally have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, a lesser charge that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. The indictment accuses Roddy of a "conscious disregard of a substantial risk to human life."

Roddy, who was on probation for a heroin possession conviction at the time of his son's death, has been held without bond since his arrest pending a hearing on whether his probation should be revoked.

He is expected to be arraigned on the murder charge within the next 10 days.