The D.C. Court of Appeals has overturned the 1976 conviction of a Washington man in the murder of a 20-year-old Federal City College woman student.

In a 20-page decision, the appellate court ruled that Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I hopelessly prejudiced the case of David Clark when he permitted hearsay testimony against Clark.

Clark was charged with the March 1976 slaying of Tawana Thomas, who was shot three times as she attempted to fight off an attacker in a parked car near Federal City College (now the University of the District of Columbia).

At the trial, government witnesses testified that Clark had threatened Thomas on several occasions. Witnesses also said that the two had a 5-year-old daughter and had lived together until a year before the shooting, when Thomas ended the relationship.

Over the objections of defense lawyers, Judge Moultrie allowed hearsay testimony to be given on the government's theory that it would show the "state of mind" of Clark and Thomas toward each other at the time of the murder.

"The erroneously admitted testimony provided evidence that (Clark) was not only capable of murder," the appellate court found, "but also had in fact committed a previous crime of violence toward the same victim.

"It is unrealistic to assume that the prejudice inherent in these statements did not substantially affect the verdict," the appellate court concluded in the opinion written by Chief Judge Theodore Newman.

Clark, who testified he was with his girlfriend when Thomas was killed, was convicted in November 1977, and has served two years of a 20-years-to-life sentence at Lorton Reformatory.

The appellate court ordered that a new trial be scheduled for Clark, who is expected to be released from prison on bond within three weeks, according to his attorneys.