Barbara Wade has sat in Courtroom No. 1 for nearly a month, thinking that the 10 young persons on trial for the murder of her sister, Catherine L. Fuller, are, as she calls them, "monsters."
But one day last week she found herself face to face outside the big courtroom doors with Mary Ella Ruffin, the grandmother of one of the accused.
Wade smiled and Ruffin smiled back. The two women said hello and then passed a few words about the weather.
"I wanted to tell her how sorry I was, but I didn't want to freshen her memories," Ruffin said a few days later.
And Wade had felt somewhat the same. "I wish I could go to them and say, 'I feel the pain you feel,' " Wade told a reporter. "But that's not right. I don't have a son or daughter in there. I am fighting for my sister."
The moment between Ruffin and Wade was rare for the families divided by this hideous crime, who come day after day to the packed courtroom, keeping their thoughts and their anguish private.
Yet the families are united in one sense, sharing in the tragic aftermath of Fuller's murder on Oct. 1, 1984.
As the nine young men and one 17-year-old girl stand trial after pleading not guilty in the beating death of the mother of six, Courtroom No. 1 has become the place to be in D.C. Superior Court, and there is seldom a vacant seat.
The audience -- filled with streetwise teen-agers who look as though they belong in school, and worried adults who say they are looking for answers -- seems to reflect the issues raised by the crime itself.
Fuller was killed in a depressed Northeast neighborhood where many youths lead aimless lives, using drugs, and burdened by illegitimate babies.
On a drizzly Monday afternoon, prosecutors charge, the 10 defendants were among people who had congregated in a neighborhood park, singing a Chuck Brown song about "getting paid," when Fuller walked by.
According to prosecutors, the 99-pound woman was grabbed, beaten, dragged into a nearby garage, and a pole thrust into her rectum -- all during an attempt to steal her coin purse and jewelry.
The killing is being recounted in the modern courthouse's largest courtroom. Still, it is not big enough for the line that forms each morning two hours before the trial opens, and snakes through the lower lobby of the courthouse at 500 Indiana Ave. NW.
There are tittering teen-aged girls wearing jeans, T-shirts and dangling earrings who identify themselves as the girlfriend of this defendant or that. There are the adults who say they came for a closer look at the 10 defendants, some still in their teens.
"I want to look in their faces to see what makes them tick," said city government worker Victoria Paul as she waited in line.
"I want to see what makes them do that to a little lady."
And there are those like Anthony Green, 36, who bemoan the idea that "10 young people could do this. It says something deep about where we are and what we're living in."
The overflow crowds have presented some problems to deputies from the U.S. Marshals Service and officers from the D.C. Protective Service, charged with keeping order.
"They must think this is the Apollo Theater with reserved seating or something," groused one of the marshals this week, after a spectator insisted he had been inside before and had saved himself a seat.
Everyone entering gets the once-over with a hand-held metal detector by Sgt. H.T. Jones or Officer Walter Graham.
A few spectators, foolish enough to draw the attention of Judge Robert M. Scott, the stern jurist presiding over the difficult trial, have been ordered out of the courtroom for whispering or laughing. But so far there have been no serious incidents.
The most dangerous object confiscated from a spectator was a can of spray starch. "Could be used to hit somebody in the head, if people get excited. Then we've got a lawsuit on our hands," said the security officer who took it.
Inside the courtroom, where words have become weapons as friend has testified against friend, there is always an air of tension.
Two weeks ago, 17-year-old Carrie Eleby, the girlfriend of one of the accused, testified that she saw seven of the defendants attacking Fuller.
As she tearfully walked down the center aisle of the courtroom for a recess, she suddenly began hurling curses at a stunned member of the audience.
The outburst was over in an instant and no one ever learned exactly why it had taken place.
Last week, the mother of defendant Felicia Ruffin, 17, abruptly stopped coming to court, according to another family member, after hearing spectators talk about the punishment the defendants deserve if they are convicted.
Helen Brooks, the mother of defendant Alphonso L. Harris, said she has "put up a wall" to protect against those barbs.
"But I hear people talk, and some of it still manages to seep through."
The mothers and grandmothers, some of whom have taken the witness stand, proclaim their children's innocence with a passion.
The police and prosecutors "must think we're a bunch of maggots, to think we'd lie about a crime like this," said Mary Overton, the mother of defendant Russell Overton, as she stood outside the courtroom recently. "You don't lie about a murder case. Lord Jesus, no, not the way Catherine died."
Even the judges who have seen their share of crime and criminals but occasionally drop by to sit in the courtroom's reserved front row are struck by the violence.
"In my memory, there has not been a crime as gratuitously gruesome as this," one of them remarked this week.
In fact, it has spurred a call from some spectators for reinstatement of the death penalty in D.C.
"I ain't gonna say who's guilty or who's innocent," said one 16-year-old girl as she stood in line last week. "But they didn't let that lady live, and they shouldn't live either."
For some of the teen-agers, though, the trial has spawned a sort of hero worship.
"Ooh, did you see Steve's shoulders?" a teen-aged girl gushed about defendant Steven Webb, 20, during a break in the proceedings. "They're really big."
And the teens in the audience have barely suppressed giggles when a youthful witness talks back to one of the prosecutors or the testimony turns to smoking "loveboat," the slang name for PCP.
It is this aspect that worries Diane Moore, a friend of the Fuller family who has attended the trial daily and keeps a diary for her own teen-aged children. "I look at them the defendants , and I look for answers," she said. "I wonder what is happening today . . . that is making young people like this."
Incongruous as it seems, the trial has had a few light moments.
Judge Scott, confounded in his note taking by the array of witnesses' and defendants' nicknames, including "Snot Rag" and "Fella," was finally stumped during the trial's second week. "How do you spell 'Smurfette?' " he inquired of a witness, much to the audience's delight.
A few days later, spectators were convulsed with laughter over the testimony of Mary Phyllis Overton, defendant Russell Overton's sister, who said she distinctly remembered the day Fuller was killed because it was raining and she went to a motel.
"Do you always go to a motel when it's raining?" prosecutor Jeffrey Behm asked.
"Yes," she replied. "Because I like to have sex whenever it rains."
The illustrators sketching courtroom pictures, the reporters hanging on every word of testimony, the television vans parked outside -- all have added to the festive air about the trial.
A few spectators have suggested that the trial is like a television show itself. But 16-year-old Maria Johnson disagreed. "It's different from TV. On TV it's fictional. This is real."