The murder trial of convicted drug gang leader Rayful Edmond III was delayed indefinitely yesterday after prosecutors said they would appeal a ruling by the presiding judge that would have blocked introduction of any evidence about a drug conspiracy.

The delay came last night after U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey refused to retract his ruling in that matter and another that Edmond would be tried on the reduced charge of second-degree murder, rather than first-degree murder, in the death of rival drug dealer Brandon Terrell.

"This is a significant legal decision in this case," said Plato Cacheris, Edmond's court-appointed attorney. "We don't know why this case is going to trial. Mr. Edmond has already been convicted and has been sentenced to three life sentences."

Jury selection for the murder trial began Monday and opening statements were expected to begin today. Richey said the earliest available date for a new trial is Oct. 2, if the U.S. Court of Appeals here has ruled by then.

In the original indictment handed up against Edmond and 29 others in May 1989, prosecutors charged that the killing of Terrell outside the Chapter III nightclub in Southeast Washington on June 23, 1988, was carried out as part of Edmond's massive drug conspiracy.

Prosecutors charged that Edmond ordered an associate, Columbus Daniels, to kill Terrell after Terrell and Edmond argued about money Terrell allegedly owed for drugs and Terrell's plans to take over part of Edmond's drug territory.

Citing the difficulty of trying all the charges against all the defendants at one time, Richey divided the case into three parts and ruled that the murder charges would be tried separately.

Edmond was found guilty of operating a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiracy to distribute cocaine during the first trial last fall. Daniels, who was found guilty of drug conspiracy during a second trial this spring, was convicted last month of second-degree murder in Terrell's death.

Prosecutors had planned to show that Terrell's death was a result of Edmond's efforts to maintain control over drug trafficking along Morton and Orleans places NE.

But Cacheris argued successfully that it would be double jeopardy to allow the jury in the murder case to hear evidence of the drug conspiracy, because Edmond had already been convicted of that charge. That meant the government might have to use the legal argument that Edmond aided and abetted Daniels in the killing.

Applying a decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals last year, Richey found that Edmond could not be tried on a charge other than the one on which Daniels was convicted.