Early on a summer morning in 1982, Larry Minster sat on a motorcycle outside the Deerfield Run apartment complex in Laurel, waiting in the dark for a former girlfriend, Cheryl Dodgson, to arrive home.

Dodgson had been telling Minster for three months that their relationship was over. Yet Minster would not accept it. Shortly past midnight on July 8, straddling a Honda 750 and carrying a .38-caliber pistol, he waited, watching for Dodgson's car. As police reconstructed it, when Dodgson arrived in her blue Toyota, Minster fired a single shot through the driver's side window. The bullet struck Dodgson, 26, in the neck and lodged there, shattering her cervical vertebrae, leaving her unconscious and near death.

Medical science kept her alive. Paralyzed from the shoulders down, feeling like "a prisoner in my body," she told a judge, "It is worse than being dead. I know it sounds terrible, but I wish {Minster} would have done it right, instead of {me} having to live a life like this."

On Oct. 3, 1983 -- a year and 87 days after the shooting -- Dodgson suffered a stroke and died on an operating table.

Although Minster already had been sentenced to prison for attempted murder, Prince George's prosecutors obtained an indictment on a first-degree murder charge.

But Maryland's highest court refused to allow it, deciding instead to honor an ancient legal precedent that bars a murder charge if a victim survives for more than a year and a day. Prosecutors in Maryland, like their colleagues elsewhere, scoff at the 713-year-old rule as an anachronism, and want the General Assembly to scrap it this year.

Established in England in 1278, and embodied as common law in Maryland's Constitution in 1776, the rule did not envision today's medical technology, with its ability to sustain the grievously injured for years. Nor did it foresee that someday a physician, testifying in court, would be able to make a scientifically reliable connection between a patient's death and a wound suffered long ago.

"It's really obsolete," said Robert H. Harvey Jr., the Prince George's deputy state's attorney, whose office has drafted legislation that would do away with the so-called year-and-a-day rule.

Three bills awaiting committee action in Annapolis, two in the Senate and one in the House, would allow prosecutors to pursue a murder charge in a case like Minster's, regardless of when the victim dies.

With the rule abolished, Harvey said, "We'd take it on a case-by-case basis. The state would try to prove a causal connection between the injury and the death, and it would be a question of fact for the jury to decide."

Although no one opposed the two Senate bills at a hearing last week, some defense lawyers in interviews questioned whether such a long-established rule ought to be "tampered with," as one put it.

Maryland's chief public defender, Stephen E. Harris, wondered about the reliability of medical testimony in cases where victims have died of apparent complications years after being shot or stabbed.

"Look at a civil suit, an auto accident case," he said. "You get one doctor, paid by the plaintiff, who comes and says the plaintiff was hurt so bad, she'll never work again. And then the defense's doctor says the accident wasn't the cause . . . . You can get expert witnesses who'll say anything."

Augustus F. Brown IV, president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, raised the issue of fairness for defendants. An assailant imprisoned for attempted murder could serve his time and be released, Brown said, then go through life wondering whether someday, if his victim dies, he might be charged with a homicide.

"Well, am I supposed to feel sorry for that guy?" said Dario Broccolino, director of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association. "The guy pulled the trigger. Am I supposed to feel sorry for him just because his victim happened to have a little more stamina than the next guy?"

While many states have done away with the year-and-a-day rule, Maryland lawmakers have never acted to abolish it, and the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has upheld the rule twice since 1974.

Bruce Hornbuckle, a Georgia prosecutor who is challenging the rule in his state, said 23 jurisdictions have scrapped it, some by legislative acts, others by appellate rulings, according to Hornbuckle's reading of those opinions. The D.C. Court of Appeals threw out the rule in 1987.

In addition to Maryland, appeals courts in 10 states, including Virginia, have acknowledged the rule's existence in state law. Although a few of those courts have criticized it, none has discarded it, Hornbuckle said. In 12 other states, he said, the rule apparently has never been addressed by lawmakers or challenged in an appeals court.

In five states, rather than doing away with the rule, Hornbuckle said, legislators have made it part of their state codes, although California and Washington extended the time limit to three years and a day.

Minster, 36, a bookbinder for the Bureau of Engraving, admitted to detectives that he shot Dodgson. Sentenced to 20 years for attempted murder and using a handgun in a crime of violence, he remains imprisoned in Hagerstown, Md.

After Dodgson died in a rehabilitation hospital, prosecutors obtained a murder indictment. A Circuit Court judge dismissed it, citing the year-and-a-day rule. In upholding the dismissal in 1985, the Court of Appeals decided "it is the legislature which should mandate any change in the rule, if indeed any change is appropriate."

A year later, on Oct. 17, 1986, a Prince George's police corporal, Harry L. Kinikin Jr., was stabbed in the chest by a mentally disturbed shoplifter outside a 7-Eleven convenience store in Landover.

By the time he died, after languishing in a coma for three years, his assailant, a 47-year-old woman, had been found incompetent to stand trial. Yet even if she had not been deranged, Harvey said, "we would not have been able to prosecute her for murder," given the ruling in Minster's case.

Dodgson's death in 1983 had "started us thinking" about the year-and-a-day rule, Harvey said. After Kinikin's death on Jan. 6, 1990, the State's Attorney's Office asked the assembly last year to scrap the rule. But the legislation died in the House Judiciary Committee because of language problems, according to its sponsor, Del. Pauline H. Menes (D-Prince George's).

How lawmakers will react to the bills this year is "very difficult to anticipate," Menes said. And Harvey conceded: "The sentiment is, the rule's been around since 1278, so why mess with it? And frankly, it's not something that comes up a lot, maybe a few cases every couple of years."

None of the three bills pending this year would apply retroactively to cases such as Minster's.

Nelson W. Rupp Jr., who prosecuted Minster for attempted murder, said the rule ought to be eliminated out of fairness to victims, no matter how few their number. "What's right is right," said Rupp, who is now a defense attorney. He recalled that Dodgson raised a similar point about the quality of justice in her victim impact statement, given to the judge who sentenced Minster on June 3, 1983.

"Sometimes I get so hyper being down in bed all of the time, I feel I will lose my mind," Dodgson said. "It has done a lot to me, it has done a lot to my family. I am like a prisoner in my body. I wish the judicial system would change to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."