A newspaper distributor was charged last night with slaying his wife, who was found shot to death early yesterday in their home in Mount Airy in Carroll County, Maryland State Police said.

The distributor, Edwin Francis Downs, 30, called Montgomery County police about 3:15 a.m. yesterday to report that an unidentified person had fired shots at his delivery van near Damascus in the northern area of the county, police spokesman Harry Geehreng said.

Geehreng said that Downs said the incident occurred near Route 27 and Brink Road as he was heading to work as an independent newspaper distributor for The Washington Post.

According to Geehreng, Downs asked county police to check on his wife because he feared the shooting was related to an assault Downs said he witnessed several days ago in the District.

Shortly before 4 a.m. yesterday, a state trooper in Carroll County was sent to the Downs home in the 6600 block of Windridge Road, according to a statement by the Maryland State Police.

The Downs's 8-year-old son answered the door, police said. The trooper later found the body of Anne Rita Downs, 30, in a second-floor bedroom. She had been shot in the head, according to police.

Police said they believe the couple's three children were asleep when the shooting occurred. None was harmed.

Downs was charged after being detained at the Rockville headquarters of the Montgomery County Police Department for questioning by state police investigators. A source said that detectives, concerned about a recent Supreme Court ruling that severely restricts questioning of suspects, curtailed their interrogation of Downs until he had an attorney present.

Geehreng said Downs told county police yesterday that he saw two men abduct a woman in an unspecified area of the District several days ago. Downs told Montgomery police he had not reported the incident earlier.

Downs told Montgomery police that after seeing the abduction, he had been followed by two unidentified men, Geehreng said. Downs told police that the men had learned his home address and had warned him to remain silent, Geehreng said.

Geehreng said the side windows of Downs's van had been smashed and a bullet hole was found on the passenger side of the vehicle. He said no weapons were found in the van.

State police reported last night that Downs had been charged with first-degree murder plus a handgun violation.