Three defense attorneys in the Hanafi Muslim murder-kidnaping trial, including former D.C. Superior Court Judge Harry T. Alexander, have been cited for contempt of court by Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio, it was learned yesterday.

Alexander was cited last Wednesday. A second defense attorney, Dennis M. O'Keefe, was cited Friday.

The third defense attorney who drew Nunzio's ire is Grandison E. Hill, who was cited three times yesterday within a period of 15 minutes.

All the citations came during bench conferences while the jury was out of the courtroom. It was understood that Nunzio would hold the citations and possible penalties in abeyance until the trial of the 12 defendants is completed.

Although details of the judge's actions were not disclosed, it was understood that he acted after concluding that all three attorneys had engaged him in what he considered to be unnecessary arguments.

Nunzio's action came amid reports that some of the 11 court-appointed defense attorneys would ask the judge to excuse them from the case because of what they regard as his overly strict rulings.

Court officials noted that several attorneys asked to get out of the case when the trial began May 31 on the grounds that the defendants would not even speak to them, much less follow their advice. These officials said that if these requests are renewed, there is virtually no chance that Nunzio will grant them.

The reported wishes by some defense counsel to leave the trial and Nunzio's contempt citations were regarded as indications of the rising pressures in the trial of one of the most highly publicized crimes in the city's history.

These pressures are complicated by the fact that there are 12 defendants on trial. All are charged with murder and kidnaping in furtherance of a conspiracy of compel the government to turn over to Hansas Abdul Khaalis, 55, alleged leader of the group, five Black Muslims convicted of murdering seven members of his family in January, 1973.

The kidnapings and the murder charges grew out of the taking of 149 hostages last March 9 at the international headquarters of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish service organization, at 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, the Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW, and the District Building at 14th and E Streets NW.

The only killing occurred at the District Building. Maurice Williams, a 24-year-old radio reporter, was cut down there by a shotgun blast.

The prosecution already has called more than 50 witnesses and its evidence has been massive. There have been no indications of what defense the Hanafis will make. By law, they are not required to prove anything. But the government, to make its case, must prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Faced with what they have concluded is the noncooperation of the defendants and the mounting government evidence, the defense lawyers have concentrated their efforts on persistent challenges to introduction of the government's evidence.

Judge Nunzio's job, as he told the jury yesterday, is to make legal rulings and to conduct the trial efficiently. Some of the defense attorneys contend that his rulings have favored the government. Others say that he has been scrulous about protecting the defendants' rights on major questions.

In the working out of the trial, these conflicting views have clashed frequently. One result has been the contempt citations. Court officials note that such citations are not unusual in multidefendant criminal cases in which the evidence against all is substantially the same, but in which the interests of the various defendants may be different.

The officials say that citations such as those in the Hanafi case are used to give the judge greater control over the proceedings. Whether penalties are actually levied probably depends on the future behavior of the attorneys, the noted.

It was understood that Nunzio's concern was to avoid a mistrial through any error on the part of either the prosecution or the defense. One of the features of the case that is unusual is the fact that all 12 defendants began a hunger strike June 16 to protest what they regard as the injustice of the proceedings, particularly with respect to Khaalis, their leader.

It was against this background of mounting tension and frustration that Alexander was cited for contempt last Wednesday. He asked a witness to "try" to remember why she had omitted to tell police of certain threats she heard at the Islamic Center.

"Try what, sir?" said Nunzio.

"Try to remember," said Alexander.

"That's an improper statement to make to a witness," Nunzio replied.

"Your honor, I object to that," said Alexander.

The jury was sent out of the room. There followed a brief bench conference during which Alexander was cited.

Alexander represents Khaalis. He is the only attorney in the case who has been retained privately. The other 11 were appointed by Nunzio.Some say that this makes it difficult for them to represent their clients aggressively because Nunzio must sign the vouchers by which they are paid under the Criminal Justice Act. Thus, say some of the defense attorneys, he has the power to discipline them through contempt citations and the power to cut their pay vouchers.

Pay vouchers are frequently cut by Superior Court judges. But it is understood that Nunzio not only has not cut any vouchers in this case, but has restored some cuts made by the Criminal Justice Act office at the courts.

The judge cited O'Keefe for contempt last Friday after he jumped to his feet to object to questions raised by Hill. Alexander already was on his feet making the same objection. Nunzio has ruled repeatedly that he will allow only one attorney to stand at a time. When O'Keefe failed to resume his seat after Nunzio ordered him to do so, he was cited.

Hill was cited yesterday as the government brought more witnesses to testify about hostage-taking and threats of death at the Islamic Center and about bloodshed and death at the District Building.

Among those testifying were D.C. City Council members Marion S. Barry Jr., who was wounded at the District Building by the same shotgun blast that killed Williams; Stephen Colter, a reporter who was with Williams at the time he was killed, and Dr. Muhammad A. Rauf, director of the late Islamic Center. Rauf quoted his captors as saying Khaalis would spare the life of his wife, who was a hostage with him. He said he himself was threatened with death.

Hill represents Abdul Muzikir, 22, also known as Marquette Anthony Hall, the alleged trigger man in the murder of Williams and the wounding of Barry and of Mack W. Cantrell, a guard at the District Building.

He was cross-examining James A. Yancey Jr., a guard who was with Cantrell at the time the latter was shot.

Nunzio first summoned Hill to the bench when he asked Yancey if "he remembered anything that happened that day." The second time came a few minutes later when he repeatedly asked for - and was refused - a bench conference. The final citation was given after the jury had returned and Hill said: "In view of what's happened, sir, I have no more questions."