A New Jersey man pleaded guilty to first-degree murder yesterday in a fatal shooting that occurred during an attempted robbery at a home in Arlington last March 8.

Thomas Edward Carruth Jr., 33, of Marlboro Township, N.J., could be sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of Guy Allen Melton, 28, a Metro mechanic and student at Northern Virginia Community College. Melton was shot in the chest when he went to help a friend who was struggling with Carruth, who had entered her house with the intent of robbing its occupants.

During an hour-long hearing in Arlington Circuit Court yesterday, prosecutor Henry E. Hudson played a tape recording of a statement Carruth gave authorities after his arrest.

Carruth said in the statement he was driving to visit his wife in Alabama when he pulled off Interstate Rte. 395 shortly before 2 a.m. because he was running low on gasoline and money.

Carruth said he saw a party in progress at 824 S. Irving St., gained entry on the pretext of wanting to borrow a phone book and then ordered the partygoers to lie face down on the floor.

Aimlee Hill, a resident of the house, became enraged, Carruth said, struggled with him and bit his thumb.

"I didn't want to hurt her, I kept telling her to stop (biting) and the her boyfriend (Melton) came to help her and that's when the gun went off. I just ran, I was petrified," Carruth said.

Melton, shot with a revolver, was pronounced dead on arrival at Arlington Hospital. He lived at 4600 S. Four Mile Run Dr.

Carruth was arrested shortly thereafter in New Jersey on charges that he robbed a grocery store there. Yesterday he pleaded guilty to felonious assault, breaking and entering, use of a firearm in committing a felony and attempted robbery in addition to murder.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 15.