A Howard County man charged with murder in the death of his father, an Ellicott City restaurant owner, decided yesterday to have his trial heard before a judge instead of a jury.

Dimitrious (Jimmy) Prassos, 23, decided to have his case heard before Circuit Judge J. Thomas Nissel Jr. minutes before jury selection was to begin. His trial, expected to last a week, is scheduled to start today.

Prassos is charged with murder, robbery and conspiring with William H. Ray, 30, to arrange the robbery at the Pirate's Cove Restaurant in which his father, 59-year-old George Prassos, was killed in a struggle with a gunman last August. Ray's trial is slated to start April 4.

The Howard County state's attorney's office and Prassos' attorney, Joseph Fleischmann, refused to talk about the case yesterday, citing a gag order imposed by Nissel.

However, according to several defense attorneys, Prassos likely opted for a court trial because of pretrial publicity, which could prejudice jurors against Prassos. Yesterday, a court clerk ordered prospective jurors to refrain from reading newsapers that contained articles about the trial.

Defense attorneys also said a judge probably would be less swayed toward a guilty verdict by hearsay testimony, expected to be a large part of the state's evidence. On Tuesday, Nissel ruled that he would not make admissible statements by the state's key witness, Lisa Williams, 20, a waitress in a Towson restaurant, who police said told them she had driven the getaway car in the robbery.

However, Nissel said Tuesday prosecutors could use hearsay statements from Ray's former drug counselor and two former prison cellmates, who testified that Ray talked about an accomplice named Jimmy.