Trone Tyrone Ashford admitted he opened fire on three Dunkin' Donuts employees during an early morning robbery in Camp Springs in October as an accomplice screamed at him to shoot, a Prince George's County homicide detective testified yesterday.

Ashford initially told police he had nothing to do with the Oct. 15 shotgun slayings of Indian immigrants Kanu Patel, 28, and Mukesh Patel, 35, and the wounding of Ashvin Patel, 44, two homicide detectives testified yesterday. Ashford went on trial this week in Prince George's County Circuit Court on two counts of felony murder and one count of attempted murder.

Under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney, detectives explained how Ashford eventually admitted his role in the shooting.

For most of the 13 hours he was questioned by police, Ashford said he didn't know anything about the killing. But after detectives told him they had found spent shotgun shells at the crime scene, his denials began to break down, Detective Robert Simpson testified.

Prosecutors said the shells came from the shotgun detectives found in Ashford's home.

Ashford, 26, acknowledged that he was at the all-night doughnut shop when the shootings occurred but said that he didn't shoot anyone, Simpson said.

But after further questioning, Ashford told police that John Lemon Epps IV, his co-defendant, shot two of the victims and then handed him the gun, Simpson testified.

At that point, Ashford said he "accidentally" shot the third doughnut shop worker, Simpson said.

Simpson said he then told Ashford that Epps, 20, was cooperating with police and was willing to take tests that would prove he was telling the truth.

Then the detective asked Ashford a hypothetical question: If Simpson robbed a bank and shot someone, would it be right for him to blame Ashford for the shooting?

At that point, Simpson testified, Ashford looked down as his eyes began to tear up and said, "I shot them."

"I was scared and drunk with panic," the detective quoted Ashford as saying. "I'd never shot anybody before."

After the victims were shot, the killers poured gasoline in the doughnut shop and set it afire, leaving the victims for dead.

If convicted of the killings, Ashford, of the 4000 block of 28th Street in Temple Hills, could be sentenced to death.

Epps's trial on two counts of felony murder and robbery is pending. A third co-defendant, Alicia N. Holloway, 17, of Fort Washington, pleaded guilty June 4 to two counts of felony murder and is awaiting sentencing.

She is scheduled to testify against Ashford on Monday, prosecutors said.

An acquaintance of Ashford's who went to the doughnut shop with the trio on the night of the slayings testified Thursday that Ashford said he had killed the victims.

Kevin Shiplett, 20, testified that he sat in the car as Ashford, Epps, and Holloway went into the shop about 3 a.m. As he sat in the car, Shiplett testified, he heard two or three gunshots.

Moments later, Epps returned with the shotgun, put it in the car trunk, and went back into the store with the can of gasoline, Shiplett testified. Shiplett is not charged in the slayings.

When Epps, Ashford, and Holloway returned moments later, Ashford got into the driver's seat and said he had just killed three people, Shiplett testified.

Just before the shootings, Shiplett testified, he, Ashford, and Epps had been drinking heavily and smoking marijuana at a friend's apartment. Shiplett testified that he told the truth to get the matter off his chest.

Ashford and Epps also are charged with killing a Brandywine man in September.

Ashford, Epps, and Theodore Briscoe, 21, are charged with shooting to death Brently Jason Youmans, 31, during a carjacking Sept. 13. A fourth defendant, Donnie Dawayne Comber, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder in that case last month.

CAPTION: In October, robbers at an all-night Dunkin' Donuts in Camp Springs shot and killed Mukesh Patel, below left, 33, and Kanu Patel, 28, and wounded another employee before dousing the shop in gasoline and setting it on fire.