The question of how long an accused murderer should be kept in jail pending trial caused some rare fireworks on the D.C. Court of Appeals, with the court sharply divided along liberal and conservative lines.

Judges John M. Ferren, Julia Cooper Mack and Theodore R. Newman Jr. accused their conservative colleagues of using "hypertechnical rationalizations" to justify upholding the murder conviction of Whitfield Graves, who argued that he was denied a speedy trial because he was forced to wait 25 months behind bars before a jury heard his case.

In the recent opinion upholding the conviction, Judge James A. Belson, writing for himself and judges Frank Q. Nebeker, Judith W. Rogers and John W. Kern III, found that Graves had not been prejudiced by the delay.

Ferren, in the dissenting opinion, wrote that appellate courts "commonly tend to rationalize affirmance of speedy trial appeals, for the sake of preserving convictions in a congested court system . . . . Appellate judges become the agents of a public that wants to preserve convictions, but is unwilling to finance an adequate, expeditious court system."

"If this case had concerned only a robber, I cannot help believing the result would have been different," Ferren wrote. "The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, however, does not distinguish between murderers and robbers, no matter how much we may want it to do so."