The jury in the cocaine and perjury trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry reached a verdict yesterday on one of the possession counts against him, but, in a scene full of anxiety and confusion, the jurors declined to announce their decision in court.

It was an odd and awkward moment in Courtroom 2. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson twice asked jury foreman Edward P. Eagles whether the panel had reached a verdict, and Eagles twice said the judge should poll the jury, which Jackson said he would not do without a verdict.

When Jackson asked again if the jurors had reached a verdict, Eagles said that they had, but that they hadn't discussed whether they were ready to deliver it.

The judge then asked the jury as a whole if it was ready to return a verdict on one of the counts, and another juror responded that it was not.

Lawyers and courthouse observers said they could not recall another occasion like it.

Before the jury entered the courtroom, Jackson read a note from the jurors saying they had reached a verdict on Count 12 of the 14-count indictment. The charge alleges that Barry possessed cocaine with longtime friend and civil rights associate Doris Crenshaw from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10, 1989.

The news of the partial verdict arrived with the jury's note to Jackson about 3:30 p.m., and the courtroom quickly filled with reporters, courthouse employees, prosecutors and members of Barry's defense team. The mayor entered the courtroom just after 4 p.m. after receiving a call from his attorney, R. Kenneth Mundy.

As the jurors filed into the jury box, Barry took a deep breath and unbuttoned his tan double-breasted suit coat. Jackson turned to the jurors and asked foreman Eagles whether they had reached a verdict. Eagles replied, "I would prefer, sir, that you would poll the jury."

Jackson assured Eagles that he would poll the jurors, but only after Eagles announced that there was a verdict.

"Do you believe that you have reached a verdict . . . that you would like to return at this time?" Jackson asked.

There was a painful pause as Eagles, a 54-year-old history teacher at St. Albans School for Boys, considered his reply. He asked again, "Would you, sir, be prepared to poll the jury?"

Once more, Jackson said he would poll the jurors if Eagles said they had a verdict.

"Do you have a verdict?" the judge asked.

"Yes sir, the jury has reached a verdict," Eagles replied. Jackson, obviously sensing the jury's hesitation, asked Eagles, "And you wish to return it at this time, you, the jury, collectively?"

Eagles answered, "That, sir, was not a question which we posed among ourselves."

Then, Jackson directed a question to the jury at large.

"Ladies and gentleman, do you wish to return a verdict on Count 12 at this time?" the judge said.

Several of the jurors exchanged puzzled looks. It was juror Hilson Snow, a 49-year-old United Parcel Service employee seated in the back row, who finally replied for the panel. "Not at this time," Snow replied in a firm voice.

The courtoom scene was perhaps the result of a line Jackson inserted in his jury instructions. He told the jurors on Thursday that they could return their verdicts on individual counts as they reached them, and that they need not wait until the entire indictment has been decided.

There were as many theories as theorists yesterday about the meaning of the awkward afternoon session. Did the announcement of a verdict on one count mean the jurors could agree on nothing more?

Or did the jurors simply intend a progress report?

Did the jury regard Crenshaw's testimony as some of the best evidence in the case, thus making for an easy conviction, or some of the worst, making for an easy acquittal? Or was it none of the above, but that the jurors happened to start with Count 12?

"The bottom line is, it's foolish to try to predict a jury," said William D. Pease, a former senior prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Pease and other strategists agreed, however, that the foreman's repeated request for a poll suggested some kind of strong disagreement in the jury room. "In 18 years I've never heard a foreman ask for that," he said.

Before calling in the jury, Jackson had given lawyers on both sides the option of asking for the verdict at once or waiting until the jurors had decided the remaining charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard W. Roberts, after conferring briefly with Mundy, said the government would prefer to wait, but "we don't feel strongly about it."

"Would you like to have the verdict received, Mr. Mundy?" Jackson asked. "Yes, your honor," Mundy replied.

The prosecution's preference against a verdict on a single count, former prosecutor Pease said, was probably based on a desire to "keep the pressure on."

"The minute they begin fragmenting {with verdicts on individual counts}, then compromise comes in, and when compromise comes in the government starts losing counts," Pease said.

After the court session, Barry met with reporters, but said he could not read the jury's actions either way. Asked which way he though they had voted, Barry said, "I have no idea."

Mundy dodged Barry's news conference, and said on his way out of the courthouse that he thought the partial verdict was a good sign for the mayor.

"That was their strongest witness," Mundy said of Crenshaw, now a Montgomery, Ala., businesswoman. "And did you notice that we asked for the verdict, and the government didn't want it?"

Walking away from reporters, Mundy said he is "still confident," and gave a thumbs-up sign when asked what the partial verdict meant.

The jury's note about the single verdict was one of three sent to Jackson yesterday. The second note, sent about the same time as the verdict note, asked that the jury be allowed to view a videotape of Barry addressing a group of D.C. Fire Department officials on Sept. 7, 1988, the day prosecutors allege Barry bought crack cocaine from Lydia Reid Pearson at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.

Jackson told the jurors that they could not see the tape because it had not been admitted into evidence. Both sides had referred to the videotape during questioning of witnesses who testified that Barry appeared at the Fire Department meeting sometime between 10 a.m. and noon that day.

The exact period of Barry's arrival and departure could be critical in the jury's deliberations because Mundy presented an alibi defense to the charge, saying the mayor did not go to the Reeves Center that morning. Instead, Mundy said, Barry started that day at the opening of a Safeway grocery store in Northeast and traveled directly to the Fire Department meeting.

Pearson testified that she met Barry at the Reeves Center and sold him three bags of crack shortly after 10 a.m.

The jury's first note of the day arrived just before 3 p.m. In it, the jurors asked whether a written cooperation agreement between witness Darrell Sabbs and the government was among the exhibits introduced during the trial. Jackson told the jurors that there was no such agreement in evidence.

Sabbs was not asked during his testimony about the details of his agreement with prosecutors. Sources said yesterday that prosecutors did sign a cooperation agreement with Sabbs, but neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor Sabbs's lawyer, Daniel G. Grove, would confirm its existence.

Grove said in a telephone interview only that he had been "astounded" that his client, during his testimony, was not asked about the existence of an agreement.

Talking with reporters between the two court sessions about the notes, Mundy said he expected Barry to be acquitted on the three perjury charges, but he said the mayor could be convicted on "one or two" of the misdemeanor cocaine counts, including the conspiracy charge.

Mundy said he was heartened by the jury's apparent focus on Sabbs and Crenshaw because he said the two were the most credible of the government's witnesses. "And they've said the hell to the rest," Mundy said.

Staff writers Elsa Walsh and Tracy Thompson and staff researcher Ben Iannotta contributed to this report.