A 29-year-old grandson of the comatose, critically ill 84-year-old woman fatally stabbed in her hospital bed Sunday was charged with murder in the incident early yesterday, shortly after he appeared voluntarily at D.C. police headquarters.

Police said Cardell Shelton was charged in the death of Selena Toye, who was found in the intensive care unit of the Washington Hospital Center about 4:40 a.m. Sunday with a butcher knife in her chest.

Police declined yesterday to discuss any motive in the woman's death, but a detective had described the incident earlier as a possible mercy killing.

Relatives and neighbors said that Toye had raised her grandson and that he had sometimes resided with her at 3403 13th St. NW before she entered the hospital about three months ago.

After being presented before a commissioner in D.C. Superior Court on a charge of first-degree murder, Shelton was released on his own recognizance.

His court-appointed lawyer, Sarah E. Brown, said he will not be asked to plead in the case before a preliminary hearing scheduled for Nov. 5. Brown said her client is scheduled to appear in a police lineup on Oct. 30.

Throughout yesterday's late-afternoon hearing before commissioner Evelyn Queen, Shelton, holding a book and wearing jeans, gray athletic shoes and a black leather jacket, said nothing.

Afterward, he left the courthouse with his mother, Lorena Shelton, his lawyer and another woman.

According to police and hospital officials, Toye was found with the knife in her chest shortly after being visited by a man who identified himself as a family member and signed in with the name "C. Shelton."

They said Toye was rushed to surgery, but died about 90 minutes later.

A D.C. homicide detective described the incident at the time as "a possible mercy killing, but a pretty cold one . . . . "

Stephanie McNeill, a spokeswoman for the hospital center, said Toye had been a patient there since being admitted July 3 for treatment of a disease affecting muscle tissue in her heart. Subsequently, McNeill said, Toye, who also had hypertension, suffered two strokes at the hospital.

The move to the intensive care unit came Tuesday after she suffered a heart attack and lapsed into a coma.

According to police and a nurse who did not want to be identified, Toye's family was bitterly divided over whether to remove her from machines that were keeping her alive. McNeill said family members had discussed with Toye's doctor the possibility of terminating mechanical life support.

About 4:25 a.m. Sunday, McNeill said, a man walked into the main lobby of the hospital at 110 Irving St. NW and asked to visit Toye.

Nurses told the visitor he could see Toye for about five minutes in her private alcove on unit 2-G. According to McNeill, he was escorted by Toye's "primary nurse."

During the visit, however, the nurse was called to respond to an emergency elsewhere in the hospital, McNeill said. "She told another nurse that she was leaving her patient to respond to an emergency and was turning the patient over to the other nurse until she could return."

About two minutes later, McNeill said, a nurse at the nursing station saw changes in equipment monitoring Toye's condition and when she went to Toye's alcove to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, she discovered that Toye had been stabbed. The visitor was no longer there, McNeill added.

Shelton telephoned investigators at police headquarters at 3:20 a.m. yesterday and was arrested when he appeared there about about 20 minutes later, according to police spokesman Lt. William White III.