A Largo man accused of fatally beating an exotic dancer with a bookend in her Rockville apartment last spring testified yesterday that he accidentally killed her after she threatened him with a gun during an argument about the future of their relationship.

His account is significantly different from the one prosecutors have presented during the seven-day trial. They have said robbery was his motive in the March 2 slaying of Emily Cagal, 24, whose body was found two weeks later in a shallow grave in Upper Marlboro.

The defendant, Antoine L. Gatewood, 33, said that he and Cagal, his ex-girlfriend, were drinking Jack Daniel's whiskey in her apartment and that she became depressed. She wanted him back, he testified, but for him, the relationship was over.

At one point, Cagal approached him with a 9mm handgun, said Gatewood, who called her "Jordan."

"Jordan, it's not funny. Put the gun down," he said he told her.

Gatewood, who is charged with first-degree murder, said he grabbed a bookend and used it to strike her in the head. He hit her repeatedly, he testified.

Gatewood said he "freaked" when he saw her lying unresponsive on the floor. After checking for a pulse, "I realized she was dead," he said.

After stashing $16,000 -- $7,000 of which he said was his -- from her safe in his jacket pockets, he drove home, stopping at a liquor store on the way, Gatewood testified. At home, his roommate helped him come up with a plan to cover up the slaying, he said.

Gatewood said he was afraid to report the slaying and concocted a plan to make it appear as though she had left town. "You have a white woman dead," he said. "I'm a black man. Nine times out of 10, I'm guilty. That's how I felt."

Gatewood said he and his roommate, Dion D. Desir, drove back to Cagal's apartment to clean up the blood-spattered carpet in her bedroom and dispose of the body.

Gatewood, who had keys to Cagal's apartment and sport-utility vehicle, made several trips with Desir between her garage and apartment, and they were recorded on security cameras. Desir pleaded guilty to helping Gatewood cover up the crime and testified for the state.

Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney John McCarthy noted that Gatewood had been in financial straits before the slaying. He owed more than $5,000 in child support and needed money to fix his van, and his cell phone service had been disconnected because he hadn't paid the bill.

Under cross-examination by McCarthy, Gatewood acknowledged lying repeatedly to a detective investigating Cagal's death. McCarthy played several voice messages Gatewood left on Cagal's answering machine after killing her in an attempt to eliminate himself as a suspect.

"Here we go again. You're not returning my calls," Gatewood said, speaking casually, in one of the messages played in court.

Emily Cagal was slain in her Rockville apartment in March.

Antoine L. Gatewood is charged with first-degree murder in the death.