A 23-year-old Howard County man charged with kicking, punching and dragging two men while watching the movie "The Untouchables" last summer told a Circuit Court jury yesterday that he had acted in self-defense.

Terrence Kelly has been accused of instigating the violence by a group of about six men that resulted in the severe beatings of William A. Murphy, 25, and Robert W. Murphy, 27. The melee at the Columbia Cinema allegedly began after William Murphy had repeatedly asked Kelly to lower his voice.

Kelly, a crew foreman with a Washington sprinkler manufacturing company, is representing himself at his criminal trial and declared his innocence during his opening remarks. Kelly is charged with two counts of assault, one count of disturbing the peace and one count of disorderly conduct.

Assistant State's Attorney Richard O'Connor said in an opening statement that Kelly had been continuously disruptive during the movie, and after William Murphy had asked him to be quiet for a third time, Kelly stood and said, "Why don't you make me."

"He was right up against Mr. Murphy -- in his face, so the expression goes -- so Mr. Murphy tried to push him away. The Murphys made it clear they didn't want any violence," O'Connor said.

At that point, according to O'Connor, Kelly grabbed Murphy, and "five to 10 other people . . . perhaps friends of Terrence Kelly, leaped upon and started beating William Murphy, and of course Terrence Kelly was involved with that." When Robert Murphy tried to intervene, both he and his brother were carried to the front of the theater, where their heads were cut and their faces bruised by kicking and punching, O'Connor said.

No one in the theater tried to help the Murphys and the fighting continued until William Murphy's wife got the projectionist to call the police, O'Connor said. By the time officers arrived, the movie was over and the group had left, he said.

Police issued a warrant for Kelly's arrest after they received anonymous phone calls placing him at the scene and after William Murphy selected his face from a group of photographs, a Howard County detective testified.

Kelly, who turned himself in to police about a week after the incident, said he agreed with O'Connor's account of the events with a few exceptions.

He said that he had gone to the movie theater alone, and that although he knew the others who allegedly beat the Murphys, he had not participated in the attack after the initial blows were thrown.

The prosecutor, he said, had "painted an ugly picture of me, but in so doing he opened the door . . . . He did not say I pushed Murphy. He said Mr. Murphy pushed me. He laid his hands on me first, and as far as assault goes, what I did will be self-defense."

Outside the courtroom, Kelly said he had decided to forgo a lawyer because the public defender's office wanted him to plead guilty and he couldn't afford a private attorney.

Carol Robertson, the county public defender, said, "It is not our policy to make defendants take pleas. "We may make a recommendation that they do, but they always have the option to say no."

Circuit Court Judge Robert F. Fischer granted a prosecution motion to continue the trial until Monday after the Murphys were unable to make it to court to testify.

The Murphys are the sons of Prince George's County School Superintendent John A. Murphy.