Chander "Bobby" Matta was indicted by an Arlington County grand jury yesterday in the slayings of two prostitutes on Memorial Day weekend, as some officials called for expanding Virginia's death-penalty law to include serial killings.

Matta, 21, of Arlington, was indicted in the deaths of Jodie Marie Phillips, 16, and Sandra Rene Johnson, 20. He was charged last week in the slaying of prostitute Sherry K. Larman, 26.

While police say the evidence against Matta is strong, prosecutors in Arlington said the most severe penalty he faces if convicted of the three killings is life imprisonment without parole.

All three women worked an area of downtown Washington known as "the stroll," and all three were asphyxiated within 36 hours during the holiday.

Matta also was indicted Monday on charges of robbing Larman and Johnson of jewelry, money and other items.

Police have said they have statements from Matta that they interpret as confessions and physical evidence linking Matta to all three killings.

But under Virginia law, multiple murders are punishable by the death penalty only if committed "as part of the same act or transaction." Because the three prostitutes were killed separately, prosecutors say, the law does not allow them to seek capital punishment in the case.

Some legislators and law enforcement officials are calling for an amendment to the law that would allow the death penalty in crimes such as the Arlington slayings.

"I think a change should be considered to cover multiple murders done in sequence," Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Helen F. Fahey said yesterday.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Springfield) said he will propose an amendment to the statute when the Virginia General Assembly convenes that would make the commission of serial murders a capital offense.

"To me it makes absolutely no sense," said Saslaw, who sponsored the 1981 bill making multiple murders a death-penalty offense. "Those women are just as dead if they were killed one after another as if they were all killed at the same time.

"Only through a loophole in the law was {the prostitutes' killer} able to escape the death penalty."

Saslaw said he will propose deleting the words "as part of the same transaction" from the current law, which would make the separate murders of two or more people a capital offense.

Under Virginia law, a murder that is "willful, deliberate and premeditated" is punishable by death if committed during a robbery or attempted robbery while armed with a deadly weapon; during a kidnaping, rape or attempted rape; as part of a murder-for-hire scheme; if the victim is 12 years old or younger; if the murder is committed by a prisoner; or if the victim is a law enforcement or corrections officer killed in the line of duty.

In their most recent session, legislators expanded the use of the death penalty to include murders that occur during a drug transaction. The new law takes effect July 1.

Sen. Dudley J. Emick Jr. (D-Botetourt) argued yesterday against expanding capital punishment to include serial killings.

"The death penalty is a deterrent only in certain narrow instances, such as contract killers," Emick said. "A serial killer doesn't contemplate the death penalty as a deterrent.

"When the death penalty becomes too general, then it might be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Then we'd have to start all over again."