A registered nurse at Prince George's General Hospital was charged with first-degree murder yesterday after being held for questioning for more than 24 hours in the cardiac arrest death of a patient in the hospital's intensive care unit.

Prince George's County police said that they arrested Jane Frances Bolding, 27, of 112 1/2 F St. SE, and charged her in the slaying of Eleanor Dickerson, 70, of 1313 Southern Ave., Oxon Hill.

According to a statement filed by police with court officials last night to support the charge: "The defendant, who was a nurse for the victim, confessed to killing Dickerson by intentionally administering lethal amounts of potassium, knowing that this amount would cause the death and relieve Dickerson from further pain and suffering."

Police said Dickerson died at 12:05 a.m. last Sept. 29.

Bolding, a nurse at the hospital since 1976, who worked most recently in the intensive care unit, was placed on administrative leave 11 days ago when hospital officials began investigating what police called "a pattern of unsubstantiated but suspicious information relating to incidents in the intensive care unit."

Maj. James Ross, head of the police department's Criminal Investigation Division, provided few details about what he called the "rather sensitive" investigation.

According to hospital employes who asked not to be named, the investigation began after another patient in the intensive care unit suffered cardiac arrest for unexplained reasons on three occasions. That patient did not die, according to hospital staff.

Ross declined to comment on the possibility of additional charges against Bolding. He said that the investigation was continuing but that no other hospital employes were suspects.

Before Bolding's arrest, two lawyers retained by the hospital nurses union tried unsuccessfully to see her while she was being questioned at police offices in Forestville beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Carol Bragg, head of the hospital nurses union, said that Bolding called her Tuesday before leaving for the questioning to ask that the union get her a lawyer. But the lawyers said they were told by police that Bolding did not wish to see them.

Ross refused to say whether Bolding had been allowed to eat or sleep at the station, or what breaks -- if any -- there had been in the questioning. Police later said Bolding slept for a few hours early last evening.

According to Ross, two county police detectives went to Bolding's apartment and asked her to go with them to the police station in Forestville for questioning. Ross said that Bolding agreed to the questioning, which began at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

"She understood that we wanted to speak with her, she was given the appropriate warning of the nature of the interview that was to take place" and she agreed to go, Ross said.

Lyn Ermer, a labor lawyer retained by the Prince George's County Staff Chapter of the Maryland Nurses Association, said that she remained at the police station for 5 1/2 hours on Tuesday but was told by police that Bolding did not want to see her.

Yesterday, the union contacted a criminal defense attorney, Hyattsville lawyer Fred Joseph, who sent his colleague Steve Lemmey to the station. Police also told Lemmey that Bolding did not wish to speak to him.

Joseph said he questioned whether after 28 hours Bolding was being held voluntarily. He said he had no idea if she had been allowed to eat or sleep during that time. "I've never heard of such a situation."

About 10:30 last night, detectives transferred Bolding from the Forestville police station to headquarters in Upper Marlboro, where District Court Commissioner Sandra Frazier ordered her jailed without bond overnight pending a bond hearing this afternoon.

Lemmey said, "I was allowed to see her briefly before she was brought over" to police headquarters. "She was visibly nervous and shaken," he said, but would not go in to details of their conversation.

Before Bolding was arrested and charged late yesterday afternoon, Prince George's Circuit Court Judge Arthur M. Ahalt denied a writ of habeas corpus seeking her release. Detective Michael McQuillen testified during the hearing on the petition that Bolding had asked to leave the station at 11:21 a.m. and was told she was not free to leave.

Hospital spokesman Michael Canning said earlier this week that the internal investigation was inconclusive but was turned over to county police late Monday.

He said yesterday the incidents were discovered though "a normal process of quality review and peer review" and that "no information that we have suggests that this development includes any other employe or former employe."

Union head Bragg charged that the hospital "has purposely not kept me up to date on their internal audit findings." She said "my concern now is for the other 500 nurses. Every day every one of us is in the same type of [emergency medical] situation. Who's to say it wouldn't happen to us?"

Staff writers Ruth Marcus and Gwen Ifill contributed to this report.