Many people who work or live near the Bethesda jewelry store robbed at gunpoint last weekend are expressing support for Vahag Babayan, the jeweler who fatally shot the two suspects. Most of those interviewed approve, in the words of one, of the shopkeeper's "doing the police's job."

But some local lawyers said Maryland law tightly controls when a private citizen legally can use deadly force: He must think he is in imminent danger of death or serious injury.

A Montgomery County grand jury is expected to review the shooting next week to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Babayan. County police are interviewing dozens of witnesses to the shooting, sources said.

According to police and witnesses, Babayan, owner of Prestige Jewelry Store, chased an alleged armed robber through a parking lot and up a crowded downtown street, firing once as they ran. Babayan then fired an additional four to seven times at the man and his alleged accomplice as they sat in a parked car.

After driving wildly through downtown Bethesda and slamming into five other cars, the two suspects died of their gunshot wounds. No charges have been filed.

"I think he {Babayan} should be rewarded for getting rid of them," said Emmett Washington, a cook at Philadelphia Mike's restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue. "There is a lot of crime out here," Washington said. "He just wanted to get his merchandise back."

Those sentiments were echoed by many in the area, who said they view Babayan as a hero.

"If I was Mr. Babayan, I would do the same thing," said Mori Tehrarchi, the owner of a children's clothing store across from Babayan's shop, which is in an arcade between Wisconsin and Woodmont avenues. "Somehow, we must stop them. They were trying to take from him what he worked for for 15 or 20 years."

Police said the suspects' car contained gold chains and bracelets stolen from Babayan.

Violent crime around the country has brought a rash of incidents in which victims have turned on their attackers. There are parallels between the Bethesda case and several celebrated cases, including that of Bernhard Goetz, a New York man who in 1984 shot four youths who he believed were about to mug him on a New York subway train. Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder and assault but convicted of illegal weapons possession.

This year, a Dallas grand jury refused to indict Todd Broom, a gun enthusiast who saw a woman slain in a shopping mall parking lot and then fatally shot the killer.

Broom, who had been shopping for gun ammunition, said he ordered the fleeing man to stop and, after the man ignored him, fired into his car.

Broom turned himself in days after the slayings. He has been praised as a hero and denounced as gun-toting vigilante.

Some Washington area criminal lawyers said Maryland law is crystal clear about when a private citizen is permitted to use deadly force.

William J. Brennan, one of the best-known defense lawyers in the state, said the law explicitly bars the use of deadly force merely to protect one's property.

Deadly force can only be used in self-defense when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury, he said.

In addition, Brennan said, the law requires that a person being threatened try to retreat from a deadly confrontation, if possible, rather than simply respond with deadly force. There is no "duty to retreat" within one's own home.

But the Babayan situation appears a bit more murky to Prince George's lawyer Fred Joseph. "This is one of those tough, tough cases. There's got to be some understanding of what the owner went through . . . . How does he know they're not going to come back and shoot him?"

"I think there is a serious question when you are not being threatened," defense lawyer Bruce Marcus said. "If he's going after the guy just to recover his property, then clearly he can't use deadly force."

Police did not file charges against Babayan on the advice of a county prosecutor.

Cases that are controversial or fall into legal gray areas often are left in the hands of the grand jury.

Some Bethesda merchants said they think the public must take an active role in assisting police. "If the police are here when a crime happens, they can handle it," Tehrarchi said. "But if the police are not present and the robber took what I have away from me, I would do the same."

But Doreen Brooks, a computer analyst, said Babayan went too far in shooting the suspects. "If someone tries to steal my car, I don't kill them," she said. "That's ridiculous."

Brooks said Babayan was reckless in firing a gun in a public area where innocent bystanders could have been harmed. "He doesn't have the right to take someone's life. He went a little too far."

When the shooting occurred, the business district was filled with shoppers and afternoon strollers.

One witness estimated that 30 people watched in horror as Babayan pursued the alleged robber from the arcade of stores in the 7700 block of Wisconsin Avenue.

After holding up the jewelry store, the alleged robber -- later identified as convicted armed robber Donald Shelton, 33 -- ran toward a blue Honda parked alongside Woodmont Avenue, police said.

Shelton entered the car on the driver's side, police said.

A second man, Steven J. Powell, an amputee, was sitting in the passenger seat with crutches, police said. Powell, 37, had not been inside the jewelry store that day.

A police account of the shooting said Shelton "attempted to pull a gun from his waistband" after Babayan fired into the car.

The jeweler then ran back toward his store, police said.

However, Jim Nostrati, a buyer at Barnes Used Cars on Woodmont Avenue who witnessed the shooting, said that before Babayan fired into the car, Shelton discarded the revolver he had brandished in the jewelry store.

"Before the guy got into the car, he dumped the gun," Nostrati said. "The men in the car were caught by surprise when the shop owner fired at them.

"The guy just pulled up to the window and opened fire on them," Nostrati said.

Shelton did not return Babayan's fire, said police, who recovered Shelton's revolver at the scene of the shooting. Babayan has said his gun is registered.

After firing at the suspects, a stunned but calm Babayan returned to his store and told a witness, "I shot them both. I shot them both in the chest."