Daniel R. Kfoury, charged with first-degree murder in the death of his housemate, Robert C. Bloom, told police he was performing an "exorcism" on Bloom and hit him repeatedly because "I wanted to get this animal, this beast, out of him."

In a videotaped statement played in Arlington Circuit Court yesterday during a competency hearing, Kfoury told police that Bloom, 27, was "a beehive of demons," and that he was trying to "deliver [Bloom] from the demonic spirits."

Bloom, who had brain injuries resulting from a bicycle accident, was found lying face down in the basement apartment of 4907 Washington Blvd., where he and Kfoury lived, about 5 a.m. on Oct. 28. Medical examiners determined he died of asphyxiation.

During yesterday's hearing to determine if Kfoury, 30, is competent to stand trial, defense attorney Frank Ceresi also argued that Kfoury's statements to police should not be admissible in the trial because they were not made rationally and voluntarily.

In the taped statement, Kfoury described and demonstrated how he held Bloom face down and hit him on the back for seven hours in an effort to "cast out the demons."

"When a demonic spirit comes out of a person's body, he will show a sign -- a yawn, a cough, a vomit, a spit," Kfoury told detectives. "With Robert, he spit a lot."

At one point, Kfoury said, "The monster lunged at me in Robert . . . Robert lunged at me . . . I grabbed him by the back of the head and pushed it between my legs, my thighs, so he couldn't do anything."

They stayed in that position from 3 p.m. until about 10 p.m. on Oct. 27, he said. During the incident, Kfoury said, "he'd start screaming and groaning and spitting out . . . . All of a sudden you hear a voice, raspy, saying, 'Oh, I'm glad I got that out. I'm free at last.' "

Kfoury said he knew at that point that "I was not dealing with Robert. I was dealing with pure demons. There was no Robert."

Kfoury estimated he struck Bloom on the back between 100 and 200 times that day. "Sometimes I had to strike him harder than a tap . . . sometimes you had to give him a good healthy blow. I only used the bigger blows on the later demons, especially the last ones."

When Bloom's body went limp, Kfoury told detectives, "It took me about 10 or 15 minutes or so to make sure the body was not playing dead." For the next several hours, he said, he prayed in the hope that Bloom would live again.

"If I'd known Robert was going to end up dead, I wouldn't have started," he said.

Earlier in the proceeding, Judge Paul Sheridan denied a motion by Ceresi to close Kfoury's hearing to the press and public.

Ceresi argued that allowing psychiatric testimony to be heard and publicized would have a "chilling effect" on defendants who might fear talking openly to psychiatrists.

Attorneys for The Washington Post and the Journal newspapers opposed closing the hearing, and Sheridan agreed, saying, "The way in which courts do what they do is regarded too often as mysterious . . . . An open society functions best when it is open."

A psychiatrist and clinical psychologist from Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va., testifying for the prosecution, said Kfoury is competent to stand trial and was not suffering from delusions when he spoke to detectives.

But Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist called by Ceresi, said Kfoury has a mental illness that prevented him from knowing "the quality or consequences of his acts."

The hearing is scheduled to resume this morning.