A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday ordered a new trial for a man convicted of a gun charge after it was learned that a deputy U.S. marshal had attempted to clarify a legal question for jurors during their deliberation of the case, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

"He was just trying to be helpful and he did the wrong thing," said defense lawyer Alexander G. Park of the marshal, who was not identified.

The defendant, Louis C. Snead, 23, of 1510 12th St. NW, was found guilty by the jury late Monday afternoon of carrying a pistol without a license, according to park. Snead was acquitted of a charge of altering the serial number on the pistol, Park said.

Before the jurors delivered their verdict, they sent a note to Judge Joseph M. F. Ryan Jr. asking him to elaborate on the legal definition of the term "possession," according to Park and the U.S. attorney's office. Ryan then sent the deputy back to the jury room with the standard court instruction on the meaning of possession, they said.

Apparently when the jurors appeared puzzled over the judge's response, the deputy marshal explained the meaning of the term to them, the lawyers said.

The following day, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case heard a courthouse rumor about the incident and conveyed the information to defense attorney Park, the U.S. attorneys' office said. At Park's request, and with no objection from the government, Ryan granted Snead a new trial, after the deputy marshal acknowledged he had talked to the jury panel. Attorneys on both sides agreed his remarks may have improperly influenced the jury.