Jurors in the Mary Treadwell fraud and conspiracy trial explained the record-setting length of their deliberations last night by describing their painstaking efforts in sifting evidence and their vigorous determination to reach a verdict on 21 complex charges.

"We all wanted to go home," said juror Randolph W. Tritell, 30, "but we all wanted to finish the job."

While the 12 members of the jury never came close to being deadlocked, said foreman Norman C. Washington, 50, they eventually required 131 hours of deliberation over 17 days because "we took the indictment line by line . . . ," and "we had a lot of evidence to look through."

"It was thorough," said a third juror, Magaleane Coleman, in outlining the process by which the panel found Treadwell guilty on eight counts, and not guilty on 13 others. There was "a lot of soul-searching and a lot of discussion," Coleman said.

Washington and Coleman said that jurors began by considering the charges of tax evasion, which they felt could be most easily disposed of, and concluded their deliberations by taking up the allegation of conspiracy to defraud the government and the residents of Clifton Terrace.

That charge was considered the most difficult to decide, and the jury took about a week in discussing it before finding Treadwell guilty, Coleman said. She said the jury "knew" a conspiracy existed. "The question was, was Mary Treadwell part of the conspiracy."

The jurors recognized that as the most difficult question, she said, in part because they "realized we would not see a 'smoking gun' per se . . . . "

Coleman said she and the others did not find their assignment a pleasant one. She said she was very much impressed by Treadwell's appearance on the witness stand in her own defense, and added: "I probably will not meet a more eloquent person in my lifetime.

" . . . I'm sorry it had to come to this," she said of the conviction.

Between acquitting her on three tax evasion charges and convicting her on the conspiracy charge, the jury found Treadwell guilty on seven charges of making false statements and not guilty on nine charges of false statements and one of wire fraud.

Some of these charges contained individual subcharges within them, which required individual consideration and extended the deliberations, jurors said.

"It was a very complicated case," said juror Tritell, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission. "It was five years in the making . . .there was a 35-page indictment, there were multiple charges, boxes of documents and four weeks of evidence.

"We decided we were going to go through everything piece by piece, line by line and consider everything."

Questioned about how his position as a lawyer may have influenced deliberations, he said that "on some points I had some points to offer from my background, which was helpful, but many times other jurors from their own experience were able to assist the rest of us.

"It was an ongoing process, we talked about things, we came back to things, until it all got resolved . . . .

Coleman had particular praise for foreman Washington, a civilian computer systems analyst for the Army. "We had the best foreman in the world," she said. " . . . . He refused to let us make a decision until everybody's view was heard . . . until you had a basis for decision."

During the deliberations, she said, jurors "didn't just say 'guilty because I feel it' . . . . There was none of that."

Defense attorney John W. Nields Jr. expressed the belief after the verdict came in yesterday that the jury had reached its conclusion through "confusion and compromise."

But Coleman rejected the idea. "If we had compromised," she said last night, "we would have been out about two weeks ago."

At one point in the trial, defense attorney Nields told Judge John Garrett Penn that "there is a real danger the jury is not going to be able to understand" the technical intricacies of the various charges.

On July 11, at the start of the third day of deliberations, the jurors, in response to their request, were given the estimated 400 government reports, documents, bank checks, memos and notes introduced as evidence during the trial.

Coleman said last night that there was much that was difficult at first to understand, but that the exhibits made these areas clear.

Noting that the jury included 11 blacks, Coleman said that convicting Treadwell, who she said had made a particularly strong impression on the witness stand, "was not easy for us."