James Leroy Breeden, sentenced to four life terms plus 20 years in prison in 1976 for murdering four people as they lay in the walk-in freezer of a Roy Rogers restaurant in Lincolnia that he was robbing, might be considered lucky.

The man convicted of the largest mass murder in the history of Fairfax County committed his crime during the period in the mid-1970s when Virginia did not have a death penalty law. The old one had been struck down by the Supreme Court, and legislators had not yet drafted a new one.

Breeden made five employes of the restaurant at 6227 Little River Turnpike lie face-down in the establishment's freezer just after midnight on March 6, 1976, and shot each at least twice in the head, according to testimony at his trial.

One woman, 22-year-old Julie Nakpodia, survived, probably because the freezer lowered her body temperature and kept her from bleeding to death before the grisly scene was discovered eight hours later. Nakpodia has substantially recovered and returned to her native Nigeria, according to Fairfax prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr.

Breeden, 47, will be eligible for parole from the Virginia prison system in February 1991, Horan said.

In the meantime, Horan said, Breeden has been transferred to different Virginia prison facilities four times since being incarcerated, most recently being moved from a facility in Brunswick, Va., to the State Penitentiary in Richmond. Horan said such transfers are a sign that a prisoner presents a behavior problem.

The man who maintained his innocence at his trial in the face of an eyewitness identification and who Horan calls "the complete con" is in a group of prisoners classified "general detention," representing an increased level of security.