Convicted drug dealer Charles Lewis testified yesterday that he used cocaine and crack with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry almost nonstop on two trips the mayor took to the Virgin Islands, and that Barry arrived at Lewis's hotel room at a downtown Washington Ramada Inn in December 1988 with crack, ready to smoke it.

Appearing as the first major prosecution witness in the cocaine and perjury case against Barry, Lewis described his relationship with the mayor, which culminated in the Ramada Inn episode of Dec. 22, 1988. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard W. Roberts said yesterday that the event triggered the investigation and ensuing criminal case against Barry.

Lewis testified that Barry twice brought drugs to the Ramada, once in a matchbox and another time in the cuff of a pant leg.

The testimony brought audible reaction and a sprinkling of laughter from the audience, and provided some irony: Lewis testified that Barry was so concerned about being a target of surveillance that he removed a light bulb from the room on two successive visits because he feared it could contain a covert listening device.

Lewis's testimony also implicated two city officials in cocaine possession: Marlene Johnson, chairwoman of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and a former legal adviser to the mayor, and James McWilliams, a D.C. Department of Public Works official. Lewis said Johnson took drugs with him in the Virgin Islands in 1988, and that McWilliams received deliveries of cocaine from 1985 to 1987.

McWilliams has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting cocaine possession. His lawyers have denied he ever used drugs. Johnson could not be reached for comment.

In a dramatic opening statement, Roberts said that the government will try to prove that Barry was a longtime abuser of hard drugs who hypocritically denounced drugs publicly while he was "putting dope up his nose."

That reference suggests that prosecutors, while appearing to treat the case like any other drug prosecution, are prepared to remind jurors about Barry's special position as mayor.

Barry's lawyer, R. Kenneth Mundy, attacked the prosecution, maintaining that the government decided seven years ago "that it was going to get Mr. Barry, and it was prepared to go to any length to accomplish that objective."

Mundy also announced in his opening statement that he has reversed an earlier tactical decision and will assert an entrapment defense to the charge that Barry smoked crack at the Vista Hotel on Jan. 18.

Such a defense involves admitting that Barry smoked the drug, but it also means claiming that he was improperly manipulated into using it by FBI informant Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore.

Mundy ended his statement by telling the jury to listen carefully to the evidence because the case is important not only to Barry and to the city. "It is important to a way of life," Mundy said.

The passage appeared to be a subtle suggestion that jurors could return a "nullification" verdict, voting not guilty because they believed the government had gone too far.

Barry is charged with 10 counts of misdemeanor cocaine possession, one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to possess cocaine and three felony counts of lying under oath about Lewis's drug use. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Barry could face a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison and a $1.85 million fine if convicted.

Lewis is expected to resume his testimony today. After that ends, Mundy will attempt to discredit him through cross-examination.

Yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith E. Retchin asked Lewis whether Barry seemed in March 1988 to be familiar with smoking crack.

"Did Mr. Barry appear to know how to use the crack pipe?" Retchin asked.

"Yes, he did," Lewis answered.

"Did he have any difficulty in loading the crack pipe?" she asked.

"No, he didn't," Lewis replied.

"Did he have any difficulty in smoking the crack from the pipe?" Retchin asked.

"No, he didn't," Lewis answered.

Bearing in, Retchin asked, "Was there anything unusual about the way Mr. Barry smoked the crack?"

"Well, in comparison to myself . . . he did it {in} more quantities and more frequent," Lewis said. He added that at times Barry inhaled too much, and passed the excess smoke directly with his mouth only inches away from Lewis's, a way of sharing drugs.

Although the courtroom was filled, there was virtually no sound other than Lewis's voice and Retchin's, as Lewis testified for more than three hours yesterday afternoon.

Lewis, who was released from jail two weeks ago after serving a 13-month sentence for conspiring to distribute cocaine, told of how Barry made the first of several visits to the Ramada. Barry arrived on the night of Dec. 16, Lewis testified, and produced a small, reddish-brown matchbox from the Capital Hilton Hotel. Inside the matchbox were rocks of crack cocaine, Lewis said.

"When he was in the Virgin Islands, I took care of him," Lewis testified, "and . . . when I was in Washington, he would take care of me."

Lewis testified that when Barry arrived for his first visit at the Ramada, on Dec. 16, Lewis did not have a pipe with which to smoke the crack Barry had brought. He described in detail how he and Barry fashioned a makeshift device to smoke the drug, using a pipe stem and a screen.

Barry and Lewis did not finish the crack the mayor brought with him, Lewis testified, and Barry left some of the drug with Lewis.

In a sense, yesterday was the opening day of the Barry trial, after two weeks of jury selection inside the courtroom and suggestions of plea negotiations outside the courthouse.

The first witness, on the stand barely 10 minutes, was Sukhjit Singh, the Ramada Inn's general manager.

Singh testified that after a hotel housekeeper complained Lewis had offered her drugs, he gave permission to two D.C. police detectives to pose as hotel maintenance workers and attempt a drug purchase from Lewis on Dec. 22, 1988.

While the detectives were on their way to Lewis's room, Singh testified that he and his boss, company Vice President Leo Fernandez, were having lunch in the hotel's restaurant adjacent to he lobby. In the middle of the meal, Fernandez told Singh that he saw Barry enter the hotel and head for the elevator, Singh testified.

Remembering that a hotel security employee had noted on a report that Barry had visited Lewis's room, he called the detectives on a walkie-talkie and asked them to break off the undercover operation.

Roberts said in court that it was a report in The Washington Post about these events, the day after that visit by Barry to the hotel, that prompted the investigation of the mayor that led to his indictment.

After the trial recessed yesterday, U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens told reporters outside the courthouse that the trial was serving an important purpose.

"In doing this," Stephens said, "we are seeking to fulfill our obligation to hold the defendant accountable for the criminal conduct charges in that indictment, based on the evidence, not on some irrelevant factors such as politics, or race, or the status of the defendant. Let me assure you that in this case we have sought to do that because justice demands no less.

"We can't avoid the tough decisions or the political offensives and let them deter us from fulfilling our responsibility to the public to see that justice is done, for in the last analysis, whatever the jury's decision in this case, the most important thing is that judgment in this case be rendered through the criminal justice process, however imperfect, based on the law and on the evidence, and not through the political process."

Stephens declined to comment further.

Mark Shaffer, Lewis's lawyer, also talked to reporters after the recess. "I don't think anybody has more compassion for Barry than Charles," Shaffer said. "But Charles elected to deal with it by being straightforward." He also said he thought "no one understood" what Barry was going through better than Lewis.

He remarked that Lewis has an almost photographic memory, a trait he said Lewis exhibited by remembering the name on the cover of the matchbox containing cocaine that Barry allegedly brought. "He can remember details from three years ago," Shaffer said.

He also said he thought the jurors' eyes were "rivited towards him" because his sincerity came through. He said Lewis still faces up to 40 months in prison in the Virgin Islands because of a previous drug conviction.

Lewis pleaded guilty in Washington last year to cocaine conspiracy charges. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop perjury and cocaine possession charges. For cooperating in the Barry investigation, Lewis obtained authorities' pledge to urge a judge in the Virgin Islands to reduce his sentence there. He has not been sentenced there. If prosecutors find that Lewis has lied in the Barry trial, the government can abrogate their agreement with him.

The courtroom yesterday held only two rows, with nine seats each, for public spectators. The remaining seats were set aside for reporters, courtroom artists, courthouse staff members and designees from the U.S Attorney's Office and the defense.

Staff writers Barton Gellman and Elsa Walsh contributed to this report.

SUKHJIT SINGH

Born in New Delhi, U.S. citizen sicne 1986, D.C. resident since 1983.

General manager of the Ramada Inn Central.

Singh testified that on Dec. 22, 1988, he gave police detectives permission to pose as maintenance workers to investigate Charles Lewis's hotel room; that as the undercover investigation began, his vice president for operations told him he saw Barry entereing the hotel; that he used a walkie-talkie to call the detectives back to his office; that he called off the undercover operation because Barry was in the hotel.