The party was dwindling at Harold Stewart's Riverdale home when he reached for a wooden baseball bat early yesterday morning, Prince George's County police said.

Enraged over a debt, Stewart began beating his longtime friend Derrick Johnson on the head and upper body just after midnight, according to police.

Partygoers watched the men, but nobody stepped in. When Stewart was done, Johnson was clinging to life, police said.

Officers found Johnson bloodied on the floor of Stewart's home, authorities said, and he died three hours later at Prince George's Hospital Center.

"The victim used to frequent that house," said Lt. Robert Nealon of the homicide unit. "He was part of a community of friends, people that hang out in the Hyattsville area."

After the beating, Stewart, 39, ran from his home, in the 4800 block of Nicholson Street, police said. Last night, he turned himself in to a Hyattsville police officer. He was charged with first-degree murder and was being held without bond, police said.

Police said Johnson, 43, lived in the 2100 block of Lewisdale Drive in Hyattsville.

Nealon said that of the 90 homicides in the county this year, yesterday's was one of the few that did not involve gunfire.

"Is it unusual to me? Yes," Nealon said. "Most of our homicide weapons are handguns."

He said he believes that the motive in the case is simple: "I think it's just a guy that lost his temper."

Police charged Harold Stewart, 39, of Riverdale in the slaying.