The crowds are smaller and the cameras fewer, but Roberta Roper and her small group of followers still frequent the hallways and hearing rooms here, lobbying for a once abstract cause that has come to be known as victims' rights.

In the four years since her 22-year-old daughter Stephanie was raped and murdered by two men in what became a widely publicized case, Roper has presided over a grass-roots campaign that has, with less visibility but increased success, pushed for tougher sentencing laws and better treatment for victims of violent crime.

In the process, the Stephanie Roper Committee has won respect even from critics in Annapolis, who say the group has improved the criminal justice system and largely avoided the extremist behavior and rhetoric that opponents feared.

"When they first began their efforts, there was an atmosphere of vigilantism and revenge -- understandably, since they were victims. They wanted everybody executed," said state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III (D-Baltimore), a passionate opponent of the death penalty and a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee that reviews changes in the criminal code.

These days, Mitchell said, the committee is seen as proposing "responsible solutions to problems" and speaking out for victims.

"What they have done is give us insight into the plight of people who've suffered," he said.

Roper, who appeared in the state capital this week to testify in support of the Roper Committee's annual package of legislative proposals, continues to disavow the death penalty. Moreover, she said, her group has never attempted to curtail the rights of the accused, but has focused instead on tougher punishment for the convicted and more comfort, information and access for their victims.

This year the committee is supporting legislation that would create a comprehensive bill of rights for victims and allow victims or a representative to address a sentencing judge or jury directly.

Like other bills advanced by the group, the proposals came out of the frustration Roper and other relatives of crime victims experienced as their cases wound their way through a seemingly incomprehensible and unfamiliar criminal justice system.

For example, the two men convicted of murdering Stephanie Roper, Jack Ronald Jones and Jerry Lee Beatty, were both sentenced to life imprisonment, but the Ropers quickly learned that the two could be eligible for parole in 12 years.

That led to one of the Ropers' most important legislative victories, a measure enacted in 1983 requiring that persons convicted of first-degree murder serve a minimum of 25 years before parole is a possibility.

Although Roper disagrees that her members have ever been vengeance seekers, she acknowledged this week that the group has become more patient as it has become more knowledgeable about the workings of criminal justice.

"We realize that the legal system changes slowly," said Roper, a former art teacher who lives in Croom in southern Prince George's County.

"We realize that attention shifts," she said. "One year it's the Chesapeake Bay, this year it's S&Ls. That's the nature of the business. I think legislators sometimes think because they've solved part of the problem they've solved the whole problem.

"That's our job -- to keep the attention focused on what remains to be done."

Toward that end, said their lobbyist, Russell Butler, the group has pared down its legislative package, which used to number up to 40 bills, and is promoting only the four it considers most important.

This year, for the first time, the group did not ask legislators to introduce legislation creating the sentence of life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty -- for several years the centerpiece of the Roper Committee proposals. The measure has received little support in the past.

Instead, the committee is supporting legislation that would:

*Create a comprehensive bill of rights for victims.

*Expand a victim's ability to participate in a parole hearing.

*Bar judges from instructing juries that life sentences mean that defendants will serve the rest of their lives in jail -- under the theory that most do not serve that length of time.

*Allow victims or their representatives to address sentencing judges or juries to detail the effect of crimes on the victims' lives.

In her testimony before the Senate committee, Roper displayed the qualities that supporters describe as serving her cause effectively: moderation and a clear view of her goal.

"Victims do not expect, nor do we believe, that this state will ever be able to adequately compensate or make us whole again," she told the committee.

"What we do expect and believe is that our courts should provide victims and their families with the same status and same procedural guarantees as their convicted offender.

"This is very little to ask and expect, in light of the fact that without victims and victims' cooperation there is no criminal justice system."