On Monday, Tyrone Dyson promised in court that he would stay away from his estranged wife if charges that he choked and threatened to kill her were eventually dropped. Despite Dyson's long record of alleged violence against women, Prince George's County prosecutors took him at his word. With the victim's consent, the case was put on hold and Dyson went free.

It was the prelude to a murder-suicide. Less than 24 hours after the courtroom deal -- a common arrangement in domestic abuse cases, authorities said -- Dyson, 32, went to the Oxon Hill home that he had shared with Ernestine Dyson, also 32, and shot her in the head, according to police. Then he turned the handgun on himself.

Their 17-year-old son, arriving home from school about 5 p.m. Tuesday, found the bodies.

"I'd love to tell you there's something we could do to fix this so it won't happen again, but I can't," State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said yesterday. "Apparently, [Ernestine Dyson] felt that a stay-away order was enough. All she wanted was for him to stay away."

The Dysons were in Prince George's District Court on Monday for Tyrone Dyson's trial on charges of second-degree assault and threatening arson. On Jan. 25, Ernestine Dyson wrote in a criminal complaint that her estranged husband had choked her and threatened that "he was going to kill us both and that he had nothing to live for so as long as I was dead with him that was fine."

But before the trial, officials said, Ernestine Dyson told a prosecutor she did not care whether Tyrone Dyson, who had been jailed for 44 days since his arrest, served more time behind bars. All she wanted was for him to stay away from her, officials said.

Assistant State's Attorney Crystal Evans and defense lawyer Daniel Moskov struck a deal in which the case was put on an inactive docket and Tyrone Dyson promised to leave his estranged wife alone. Under the deal, the case eventually would be dismissed if Tyrone Dyson did not commit any more crimes. District Judge Jean K. Baron.

Ivey said Evans knew of some of the previous charges against Dyson involving other women. Using computers, prosecutors can obtain only limited information about charges in other jurisdictions, Ivey said. And because of the volume of criminal cases in the Prince George's courthouse, there would not be enough time to drive to other jurisdictions in search of old criminal files on every defendant, Ivey said.

Since 1990, according to court records in Anne Arundel County, at least 18 criminal cases were filed against Dyson there. Several involved allegations that he had assaulted women, but most of the cases were dropped. Like Ernestine Dyson, some of the women in the Anne Arundel cases alleged that they had been assaulted by Dyson because they wanted to break up, but they declined to pursue the charges against him, according to court records.

In November 1991, for example, a woman said in a written complaint that Dyson "threatened to kill me because I didn't want him anymore. [He] broke up my TV and my clock radio, then he turned around and started to choke me about 10 to 12 times. Hit me in my face. Hit me in my teeth. I'm so afraid of Tyrone that I do believe he is going to kill me."

In June 2000, Ernestine Dyson posted bail for Dyson after another woman in Anne Arundel County accused him of assaulting her. The woman said Dyson "grabbed me as I asked him to leave my home, striking me . . . on my left side of my jaw and leaving his handprint. When I pushed him away from the door, he then came forward and grabbed me again by the back of my neck."

Evans, the prosecutor in the Prince George's case, worked for House of Ruth, a battered women's program, before she joined the state's attorney's office about two years ago. wasvisibly shaken yesterday, according to attorneys who work with her.

But Ivey said Evans made the right decision in the case, given Ernestine Dyson's reluctance to pursue a case that could have landed her estranged husband in prison.

"We need to be careful about forcing women to go forward on cases when they don't want to," Ivey said. "Then they might not call the next time they are in trouble."