A federal jury yesterday began deliberations in the death penalty trial of Kevin L. Gray and Rodney L. Moore, the alleged leaders of a Washington drug gang that investigators dubbed "Murder Inc."

The 12 jurors began the time-consuming task of weighing a 129-count indictment against Gray, Moore and four defendants who are facing possible life sentences if convicted but not the possibility of capital punishment.

The indictment covered 31 slayings over an 11-year period, representing the most murder counts filed in a single case in the city. The range of charges also includes counts of drug dealing, robbery, extortion and kidnapping, involving crimes that prosecutors say were carried out in every section of the District to expand and solidify the group's cocaine, marijuana, heroin and murder-for-hire business.

The charges are so voluminous that spelling them out on the jury's verdict form filled 82 pages, most of it single-spaced.

The jury got to business quickly yesterday, sending three notes to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth that requested documents and exhibits that detail the case of Calvin Smith. He was charged with involvement in several of the earlier slayings allegedly committed by the gang. In addition to Gray, Moore and Smith, the defendants are John Raynor, Timothy Handy and Lionel Nunn.

The trial began May 9 and had 148 days of testimony. Security has been extremely tight, and the names of the jurors have been kept secret, even from lawyers, at the government's request. Defense attorneys assailed the government's case in closing arguments, reminding jurors that many of the prosecution's key witnesses were themselves players in the drug trade, including some convicted killers.

At one point, the prosecution put Rayful Edmond III, the District's reputed king of the cocaine trade in the late 1980s, on the witness stand to testify that he taught the drug business to Moore. Edmond is now serving a life sentence in federal prison.

On cross-examination, Steve McCool, one of Moore's attorneys, noted that in a different trial, Edmond had listed all the people to whom he had sold drugs. Rodney Moore's name was not on the list.

Jurors will have to sort through those competing versions of events to reach their verdict -- but even then, the saga might not be even halfway finished.

Police and prosecutors charged a total of 18 men as being part of the drug enterprise. The remaining 12 will be tried in one or possibly two more trials that will take place -- with another jury or juries -- after this trial is concluded.