A Southeast Washington man who is accused of last week's rape of a 10-year-old girl as she walked near an elementary school had been free for more than two years as he waited to be tried on an unrelated charge of assault with intent to commit robbery, according to D.C. Superior Court records.

Joe Anthony Barber Jr., 27, charged with rape while armed in last Thursday's incident, has appeared in court 13 times before five different judges since his arrest on Sept. 9, 1982, on the earlier assault charge, records show.

Since his indictment in that case on Oct. 20, 1982, Barber's trial date has been postponed six times and he has been represented by four different court-appointed lawyers, according to court records.

Barber, of 1513 Bruce St. SE -- who is now accused of following the 10-year-old from a recreation area near Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Southeast and dragging her into nearby woods -- was free on his own recognizance in the earlier assault case and was next scheduled to come to trial Jan. 30.

If convicted on that charge, he could be sentenced to 15 years.

Barber, who city bail officials said is a guard for a Northwest security firm, was ordered held without bond yesterday in connection with the rape, one of six recent incidents involving children near city school grounds that have prompted growing concern among parents and school officials.

He faces a possible life sentence if convicted on the rape charge.

According to a police affidavit filed in court yesterday, Barber was identified by the victim as one of three men who were playing basketball at the Congress Heights Recreation grounds when she passed by on her way to go shopping.

The victim said she was returning home from the store when she again passed the basketball court and Barber followed her, "picked her up and dragged her into a wooded area," according to the affidavit.

According to the police account, Barber raped her, tied her hands and feet, put a sock in her mouth and then covered her with branches and some boards, but she eventually untied herself and called for help.

The victim earlier told a reporter her assailant had threatened to hit her in the head with a rock.

In recent years, delays have become commonplace in the backlogged city courts. A sample of cases taken last year by The Washington Post showed the average length of time from arrest to trial in felony cases was 14 months.

However, one senior judge, told of the delay in bringing Barber to trial in the two-year-old assault case, said, "That's bad." The judge, who requested that he not be named, asked, "Are you sure there wasn't a mistrial or something?"

"There you go. That's what happens when things are backlogged as bad as they are here," said an official in the U.S. attorney's office.

Court records show that Barber, who pleaded not guilty to the assault charge Nov. 2, 1982, was first scheduled to be tried three months later, but government prosecutors said they were not ready. A new trial date of April 12, 1983, was set, but, in the meantime, the case was reassigned from Judge Peter Wolf to Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio, which sometimes happens when the judges change court assignments.

At that time, however, Nunzio already was conducting a trial in another case, so Barber's trial was rescheduled for July 11. On that date, Barber's defense attorney was in trial and no new trial date was set before that lawyer -- already Barber's third -- withdrew from the case in September.

Barber was assigned a new lawyer, and a new trial was scheduled for Feb. 1 of this year. But after two months on the case, Barber's fourth lawyer, Retna Pullings, also asked for permission to withdraw, saying Barber had not shown up at her office for any of their scheduled meetings.

Barber's trial date was postponed again, until May 11, but then prosecutors asked for a different date, saying some police officers who were to be witnesses would be on vacation. Another judge -- the fifth to handle the case -- set the trial for July, but later prosecutors again asked for another date because witnesses were scheduled to be on vacation.

Barber's latest trial date was set as Jan. 30, or 28 months after he was first arrested.