Attorneys for Chander "Bobby" Matta have acknowledged for the first time that their client killed three Washington area prostitutes over last Memorial Day weekend.

The admission was contained in a brief filed last week in Arlington County Circuit Court as part of a defense motion requesting the consolidation of Matta's three murder trials.

Matta's lawyers earlier had expressed their intention to have their client plead insanity in the cases, claiming that Matta is a paranoid schizophrenic, and that he felt an "irresistible impulse" to commit the slayings.

Defense attorneys William B. Moffitt and Lisa Bondareff Kemler wrote in the brief that "there will be no question as to whether the accused committed the murders, or even as to how the murders were committed." Instead, they wrote, the defense will focus on "whether the accused was insane at the time he committed the murders."

Judge Paul F. Sheridan granted the motion to join the three trials into a single one scheduled to begin Feb. 4. Matta's attorneys could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Matta is accused of killing the three women during a 36-hour period in late May. Each of the women had been suffocated. Prosecutors say they have circumstantial evidence taken from the Matta family home in South Arlington and a tape-recorded statement linking Matta to the crimes.

"I would have preferred to do {the trials} separately," said Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Helen F. Fahey. "The commonwealth views each murder as a separate and distinct crime."

If convicted of murder in any or all of the cases, Matta could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Fahey said, it is "theoretically possible" that Matta could be released from custody after a brief stay in a state psychiatric institution, if psychiatrists and the Circuit Court judge agreed that he posed no danger to himself or others.

In a taped statement made to investigators shortly after his arrest in June, Matta admitted to the slayings, saying he used a chokehold he learned while a student at Norwich University, a Vermont military academy, to kill the three women.

But an official at the school said such maneuvers are not taught to students there. "They don't learn chokeholds at this school," said Frank Griffis, a spokesman for Norwich. "They're here to learn military science, military history and military tactics."

During last week's court hearing on the defense brief, prosecutors suggested that plastic bags, which were found at each of the murder scenes, may have been used to suffocate the victims. "I'm not sure we are bound by the defendant's explanation as to how the crimes occurred," Fahey said.

Matta said in the taped statement that he used the bags to keep himself from being splattered by the blood of the victims.

Matta's attorneys also said that a "jail house exorcism" had been performed on their client during his incarceration in the Arlington County jail by someone using the name of "Captain Butler."

Arlington Sheriff Thomas Faust said, however, that there was no employee by that name at the jail.