The crowd had been talking about the case all morning -- some since 7 a.m. and most in the mayor's corner -- but when D.C. Mayor Marion Barry showed up, there was silence.

Perhaps it was because he took the stairs to the second floor of U.S. District Court, and that placed him toward the end of the long line of people waiting to see his trial.

If the crowd was waiting for an imperial entrance, a defiant one, this was hardly it. The mayor was among them, and everyone seemed somewhat taken aback, except Barry himself. He grabbed the hand of a woman wearing a purple dress who was standing immediately to his left, smiled to those around her and walked on.

It was exactly 10 a.m. yesterday, six hours after a worker for the Department of Corrections, wearing comfortable black shoes and carrying a meal in a bag and a bottle of Evian water, began the line outside U.S. District Court. Thirty-two people were there when the doors opened at 8 a.m., and now the line had grown to about 60.

There were no cheers. There was no condemnation. It was as if everyone knew that the moment finally had arrived, and that the best response was none at all.

R. Kenneth Mundy, the mayor's chief defense lawyer, entered the courtroom with a Panama hat in his hands, and he placed it gently on a swivel chair behind him. For the first time inside the courtroom he came face to face with U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens, dressed in the red, white and blue of official Washington. Stephens, who has kept away from motions and jury selection, passed his courtroom adversary without a word.

It was a mark, perhaps, of the kind of trial the mayor faces that Stephens and Effi Barry sat with their media spokeswomen and not their spouses. The mayor's wife spent part of the afternoon hooking a rug in the front row on a pattern of yellow, white, pink, blue and brown. In one short break, after testimony describing his alleged drug use with Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore, the mayor leaned over to her and asked, "Are you all right?" She nodded yes.

Just minutes before his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard W. Roberts smiled broadly and shook the hand of Anita Bonds, manager of the mayor's recently abandoned reelection campaign. Taking his seat, he poured a paper cup of water and sipped pensively. Judith E. Retchin, the other prosecutor trying the mayor, gave a thin, tight smile to Mundy and joined Roberts.

Moments later, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson came into the courtroom. "Ready for the prosecution?" he asked.

"Ready, your honor," Roberts replied.

"Ready for the defense?"

"Ready, your honor," Mundy said.

"Bring in the jury," Jackson said. The mayor and the lawyers stood as the 18 D.C. residents filed in.

Outside, under the watchful and often reproachful eyes of U.S. marshals, was a growing crowd whose chances of seeing the trial were almost nonexistent.

Many found a common enemy in the media, both for what is perceived as biased coverage of the mayor and for a new complaint: The press contingent had all the seats.

There were more than 40 media representatives in the courtroom, and that left only two benches for the public. Nineteen people were allowed to hear the opening arguments and the first witness during the morning session, and 18 were allowed inside during the afternoon.

"They can fit 16,000 people to see Madonna, but only 20 people in to see the mayor on trial," said Sandy Silverman, a 22-year-old student at American University who was 32nd in line.

Silverman was one of the lucky ones -- he got in during the afternoon sessions -- but for the rest the only diversion was discussing the case itself. Most favored acquittal.

"The view the people have of the incident right now could be substantially altered because the prosecution has said a lot and the defense nothing," said Chukwuma Onyeije, a third-year medical student at Howard University.

Others had long histories with the mayor: supporters, followers and associates during the civil rights struggle. There was even an old enemy, Ed Hancock, who said God had let him live long enough to see Barry fall.

He was clearly the exception. Most were like Ron Johnson, who works for the Department of Agriculture and has tried to reconcile the Barry on trial with the Barry he knew and admired. "My concern now is bigger than Marion," Johnson said. "I'm concerned about the city. I can't allow the mayor of my city to be put in the role of a lawbreaker."