A Baltimore man accused of murder testified yesterday that he was trying to break up a fight among partygoers by firing into air but was drunk and "shooting kind of low."

Jeffrey L. Fowlkes, 23, an Army specialist fourth class, told a Howard County Circuit Court jury that he saw a man lying wounded on the ground after he had finished firing but did not believe he had shot the man because "that was my friend, so I thought someone else shot him."

Fowlkes's friend was only wounded. Fowlkes is accused of killing Joseph Tyrone Taylor, 21, of Cooksville, and wounding two others during a large outdoor birthday party May 20 on Triadelphia Road in Glenelg, in western Howard County.

Fowlkes, who is stationed at Fort Lee, Va., had come back to Baltimore for the weekend.

One of the men Fowlkes is accused of wounding is William Shird Jr., whom Fowlkes said he saw on the ground.

After realizing that Shird had been shot, the defendant said he repeatedly asked, "Did I do that? Did I do that?"

But he said he did not believe he had shot Shird because he had been shooting toward his left, and Shird was on his right.

In a low but firm voice, Fowlkes told the court that he and several friends and cousins arrived at the party at 11 p.m. after he had drunk half of a pint of cognac, a third of a pint of vodka and a beer.

Once at the party, the defendant said, he and others went to a liquor store and bought a case of beer and more cognac.

Fowlkes said that after returning to the party, he saw two men fighting and tried to break up the scuffle. When they continued to fight, he said, he went to his car, retrieved a 9mm semiautomatic handgun and fired into the air "to stop the confusion."

He fired into the air again, he said, after seeing another fight nearby.

"I realized I was shooting kind of low," Fowlkes testified. "My intoxication . . . had put my reflexes off-balance."

He said that he later realized that someone seemed to have grabbed or hit his arm as he was shooting. And he said he told police that "the only way I could have shot someone was while people was grabbing me while I was shooting in the air."

The defendant, who testified for a little more than an hour in full dress uniform, was arrested after police pulled over his car several miles from the party shortly after the shooting.

Fowlkes, who leaned forward in the witness box with his hands folded before him, said that after he was arrested he lied to police about being drunk because "I didn't want to get into trouble for drunken driving" and "I didn't know so many people had gotten hit."

Earlier in the trial, witnesses said they saw Fowlkes firing from right to left after partygoers yelled at him to "spray these country {expletive}" and to "crank that {expletive} over here."

Fowlkes yesterday denied hearing anyone make those statements.

Witnesses also had testified that someone shone a flashlight on the crowd and that Fowlkes sought out people to fire upon, a scenario that the defendant also disputed.

Fowlkes said he knew that carrying a gun without a permit violates Maryland law.

He bought the weapon after being shot in west Baltimore in 1985 as he walked out of a store, he said.

Fowlkes added that he regrets taking out his gun the night of the party.

"What was the result?" asked his attorney, Richard Winelander.

"A tragedy, sir," Fowlkes said.