From his first conviction at the age of 10, Michael Andre Perry Jr.'s life seemed to be a descending spiral. He compiled a juvenile record of nine more convictions, including one a few months after his 17th birthday.

Then in May, shortly after being released from a juvenile detention center, Perry landed a first-degree murder charge after he allegedly pumped five bullets into 18-year-veteran D.C. police Officer Robert Remington inside a Georgetown boutique.

An 18-year-old with a fancy for designer sports clothes and gold nugget rings, Perry loved to attend go-go dances, pick fights and smoke PCP, say several of those who know him. He grew up in Petworth, a working-class Northwest neighborhood of solid row houses with bright awnings and front porches off Georgia and New Hampshire avenues, a quiet but troubled youth who spent nearly half his life in and out of detention centers, according to family and friends.

Before dawn on May 19, according to police charges, Perry, his sometime antagonist Derwin Straite and a third youth tried to steal expensive sweatshirts and T-shirts from Hugo Boss, a trendy Georgetown clothier. When Remington approached, police allege, Straite and the other, still- unidentified youth fled, but Perry hid in the store.

Moments later, he and Remington struggled, police have alleged, and Remington shot Perry in the hand before being overpowered and having his revolver stripped away. Police said that as Remington pleaded, "No, don't, don't do it," Perry fired five shots into the 39-year-old officer.

The violence of the incident stunned many in the city and raised a haunting question: What triggered the apparent transformation of a simple burglary into a brutal slaying? While there may not be a universally accepted answer, the story of Remington's slaying and what propelled it shares a troubling commonality with hundreds of crimes that involve the city's young people.

To his family and friends, Perry's troubles were magnified by his time in juvenile detention centers and the drug he used. To city officials who work with troubled youths, Perry never stood a chance in a system that locked him up instead of helping him out of the destructive pattern first displayed at the age of 10.

To law enforcement officials, Perry is a lifelong thug who they believe killed one of their own and deserves the harshest punishment the justice system can deal him.

The person who killed Remington is "not a poor, little guy -- he did something terrible," said Assistant Police Chief Isaac Fulwood. "You have made one tremendous judgment when you kill someone, and he deserves to be punished."

Oscar (Doc) Webster is director of the Petworth Community Service Center, an oasis of playgrounds, basketball courts and a clubhouse that also offers counseling to neighborhood youths. He said he believes that drugs are at the core of Perry's troubles.

"You take a young person like Michael with so many problems and you add drugs. It's just multiplying the problem, {adding} another handicap," Webster said. "There's a whole lot of Michael Perrys out here, especially when it comes to drugs, especially when it comes to his street buddies."

Perry and Straite, who also was charged with felony murder in Remington's death, are two of hundreds of young men and women in the District who sources in the courts and law enforcement agencies say follow a frightening pattern: They are repeat offenders who entered the juvenile justice system early and have gone on to commit sporadic acts of violence, often when they are high on drugs or trying to get money for drugs and status possessions.

"My fear is that more of these violent episodes will take place. PCP is not only a deadly drug for the person who is taking it, but it's a deadly drug for society in general," said Audrey Rowe, former social services commissioner of the District who now oversees social services from the mayor's office.

"Episodic violence is the psychotic outcome where the use of PCP has so adversely affected a young person's ability to reason and control that they are operating on sheer animal instinct almost," Rowe said.

According to police, Perry and Straite made statements saying they smoked PCP-laced cigarettes all night as they planned the burglary. A cheap and potent liquid that is the drug of choice among a growing number of Washington area youths, PCP ravages the brain cells of its users, causing unpredictable violent behavior, memory loss and uncontrollable reactions. Be- cause it is absorbed and accumulated in the body's fat cells, psychotic flashbacks can occur months, even years later.

Perry was last released from Oak Hill, a facility for delinquent District youths, on Feb. 13 after serving time for a stabbing. Webster said that he and his staff of seven counselors at the Petworth center tried unsuccessfully to interest Perry in recreational activities designed to keep young people off the streets and out of trouble. Perry often filled his time with smoking PCP, which turned him from quiet loner to angry bully looking to fight, according to several neighborhood youths.

"Michael is one who slipped through the cracks. That's what troubles me; if I could've just reached out and grabbed him, maybe this wouldn't have happened. That's something that I could toss and turn on all night," Webster said last month. "Can't we come up with some magic wand to say, 'Hey, quit going where you're going.' "

Perry's first arrest came in June 1979 at the age of 10 for oral sodomy. Records filed in court show a lengthy juvenile record, dotted with violence.

"Mike always seemed to be in trouble unless they put him away somewhere. I don't know how Mike got off to as bad a start as he did," said 81-year-old Thelma Bradley, whose two-story house at 419 Randolph St. NW has been home to most of Perry's large extended family for more than 30 years.

"I don't know what happened to Mike, why he went astray. He worries his mother and grandmother to death," she added. Bradley is not related to the Perry family, but family members call her Grandma.

Born to Karen Perry when she was 15, Michael Perry is the oldest of four children. When Perry was 8, he was beaten by a male friend of his mother, according to a friend and law enforcement sources. Two years later, Perry was charged in juvenile court with sexual assault on a 5-year-old.

Charges of increasing violence followed, according to court records: robbery, force and violence in 1981; grand larceny, assault with intent to rob, obstruction of justice and second-degree burglary in 1982; robbery, force and violence, and assault with attempt to rob in 1983; second-degree burglary in 1985; assault with a deadly weapon, a knife, in 1986.

"It's really a tossup whether a kid ends up in the neglect system or the juvenile system, because you almost have a neglect case per se when a 10-year-old ends up in the delinquent system. The neglect system offers a lot more help to kids," said an official who worked with Perry at Oak Hill.

The official described Perry as a quiet youth who worked hard to complete his high school equivalency degree before leaving the facility in February. Allegations of his involvement in Remington's slaying shocked the detention center staff, the official said.

Last month, Karen Perry, a secretary, sat solemnly through nearly an hour of courtroom testimony about her son's alleged role in Remington's death.

"We were all raised up in a family that believed in God. And we all went to church. And there's really nothing I can say about what actually happened with my son," the 32-year-old Perry said in a brief interview.

"I guess no matter what values parents instill in children, they still have to face the system, the pressures of society. Sometimes the system and the pressures don't give them a chance," she said.

Angela Broadas, an acquaintance of Michael Perry, said she too was beaten by the man who beat Michael. She said she also turned to PCP to escape reality.

"Things affected Mike that came from childhood on up; that's why he kept getting quieter. He started smoking PCP because he thought it would take his troubles away from him," said the 21-year-old Broadas, who works as an aide at the Petworth center.

"That's why drugs have infested themselves in the black community -- when you've got deep-seated problems you reach out to get relief, and if you reach for drugs it just gets worse," she said. "I just can't believe he put his whole life in jeopardy, not for T-shirts."

In the week before Remington's slaying, Perry picked several fights, according to those who know him, including one with Straite, his fellow defendant in the case.

During that week, according to several neighborhood youths, Perry told people at the Petworth center that he worked at Hugo Boss, asked their sizes and color preferences, and promised them coveted Boss sportswear at bargain prices: $108 sweatshirts for $50 each, and two $45 T-shirts for $30.

"He was lunching on the love {PCP}," street slang for losing reason because of smoking PCP, said Julian Goodman, an 18-year-old student and basketball player at Roosevelt High School.

"Michael Perry would do anything for money. He was trying to make himself something that he wasn't. He was trying to get money too fast, trying to get in the fast lane," said Andrew King, an 18-year-old from the neighborhood who works at the Petworth center. "He'd talk to you one day, turn on you the next."

Some Boss items were taken from Bradley's house the night of the slaying, after Karen Perry allowed police to search the house without a warrant, according to law enforcement sources. No Boss items were found at Straite's house at 3731 Ninth St. NW, according to a search warrant in his court records.

Straite has a lengthy juvenile record, history of PCP use and two convictions as an adult.

Lucy and Daniel Straite said in an interview that their son had gone through a troubled period beginning with his first arrest on drug charges at the age of 13. But they maintained that their son had straightened out after spending four months in jail for convictions in 1985 of receiving stolen property and unlawful entry.

Court records show that Straite repeatedly tested positive for PCP use or failed to report for drug testing as he awaited trial that year. But the Straites said that since his jail term, their son had earned a high school diploma, begun studying to become a mechanic and spent most of his free time riding his bike, body-building and attending to an aunt who is dying of cancer. They say they are certain that he is innocent of involvement in the burglary and slaying.

For now, the lives of Perry and Straite are intertwined, and they will remain so until their guilt or innocence is determined by the court. Police have vowed to find the third suspect in the case.

"Seeing that badge blown up, seeing that uniform shirt soaked with blood, it's scary to think that two kids did this, because you know police officers have kids, too -- and so cold blooded," Fulwood said. "Why didn't he just run? The officer couldn't have done anything."