There was a funereal mood in Courtroom 204 of the Prince George's County Court House as the mother, the father, the stepmother, the uncle, the cousin, the high school coach, the college recruiter and even the family minister waited glumly for the appearance of their loved one, the accused.

Shortly after 10 o'clock on the morning of July 10, a deputy sheriff opened the courtroom door, and there he stood: 6-foot-4, 225-pound football star Derrick Fenner, the leading rusher in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.

The minister clutched a small leather-bound copy of the Holy Bible as Fenner, dressed in a green, prison-issue uniform, his hands shackled securely behind his back, was led into the courtroom.

It was a pathetic sight, Derrick Fenner the inmate, because only last fall this handsome University of North Carolina sophomore seemed to have it all: a cherry-red BMW 325 with a cellular phone, a wardrobe of eye-catching clothes, more girlfriends than he said he could count, and an ability to turn an ordinary Saturday afternoon into something special for Tar Heel football fans.

But now, Fenner was charged with committing what Assistant State's Attorney Mary Ianni Scherstrom called "a despicable act": killing one man and wounding another in a dispute over drug trafficking in West Hyattsville. In an unrelated case, Fenner also was charged with possession of cocaine and illegally transporting a .38-caliber revolver. Fenner has pleaded innocent to all charges.

On that morning, Fenner's lawyers, Fred Joseph and Joel Worshtil, would ask Circuit Court Judge Jacob Levin to set a "reasonable" bond so their client would be free while he awaited his trial. "I've got to get this kid out," Joseph had said before the hearing. "It's driving him crazy in jail."

Joseph told Levin that at the trial -- scheduled to begin Oct. 26 -- witnesses will describe Fenner as a "caring, loving individual" who never had any involvement with drugs and who was "nowhere near" the scene of the shooting.

Scherstrom told Levin that the state has witnesses who will implicate Fenner in the shooting -- and that Fenner should not be released from jail because he poses a "danger to the community."

Levin set bond at $100,000. As he turned to leave the courtroom, Fenner appeared despondent. Walking toward the door, his hands still cuffed, he caught a glimpse of Ted Gill, the North Carolina assistant coach who recruited him out of Oxon Hill High. Gill's eyes glistened. "It was tough to see Derrick like that," the coach would say later. "He looked very nervous. Very sad."

A nod of recognition, and Fenner was off, to be returned to his cell at the Prince George's County Detention Center, where he would remain -- until his release five days later -- pondering his fate, wondering if he would ever again hear the roar of an adoring crowd.

"Derrick is frightened, thinking about the future," Joseph said after a meeting with his client in jail. "Derrick knows that he could be in jail for the rest of his life. He knows that in only a few months' time, he has gone from being a hero to being in hell."

Which raises two questions about Derrick Fenner: How did he get into this hellish predicament?

And: Does he deserve it? 'The Body of a Man'

He was born in Washington, D.C., but his family moved to Oxon Hill, southeast of the District, when he was 11. Although he lived for a brief time with his mother, Fenner spent most of his life with his father and stepmother. Spear Fenner is a polisher at an auto body shop. Clara Fenner is a drug store clerk. "Mr. and Mrs. Fenner can be described very easily," a family friend said. "They're both good people. Working people."

Fenner first played organized sports at the Oxon Hill Boys and Girls Club, excelling as a fast-moving running back and tough-rebounding basketball player. By his sophomore year in high school, Fenner had what one teacher described as "the body of a man." He stood 6 feet 4, weighed 200 pounds, and there was no question about his life's ambition.

"I wanted to play professional sports," Fenner recalled in an interview for this story. "But when I got to high school, I didn't see any tall running backs in the NFL, so I thought I'd be too tall to be a pro running back. My theory was, I would hopefully grow some more, then play pro basketball. Playing in the NBA. That was my goal."

His goal changed after a conversation with Mike Pearson, the Oxon Hill High football coach. Suddenly, Fenner wanted to play pro football. "Looking around the NFL, I saw that there were some tall running backs," he explained. "So pro football became my dream."

Fenner led his team in rushing as an 11th grader -- and his dream was in motion. "When Derrick ran, it was like poetry," Pearson said. "When Derrick ran, it was like he was running to music."

Fenner was not making much music in the classroom, however. He entered his senior year with a sub-2.0 average, according to Pearson. "Derrick's back was to the wall," Pearson said. "He knew he'd have to have almost a 3.0 {or B average} his senior year to qualify for a college scholarship." Pearson said Fenner scored "about 700" out of a possible 1,600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test -- now the NCAA minimum for freshman participation.

No one was surprised when Fenner rushed for almost 1,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns his senior season. But there was much surprise -- and joy -- when Fenner achieved that B average. "And he didn't do it by taking four or five gyms or whatever," Pearson said. "He took algebra, geometry, chemistry, a foreign language, whatever."

Gill said he investigated Fenner's background as thoroughly as possible before offering him a scholarship. "In recruiting, you make a lot of contacts with people who know the player," the North Carolina assistant coach said. "You don't want to recruit a bad-character kid."

Gill said he learned that Fenner came from a stable family and that his friends were chosen from the Oxon Hill football team. "Everything I heard about Derrick was excellent," Gill said.

Fenner signed with North Carolina because of the school's reputation for producing NFL-caliber running backs. In his first appearance as a freshman -- five games into the 1985 season, after injuries sidelined the Tar Heels' top two backs -- he gained 109 yards. In his second game, he rushed for 150 and was named ACC rookie of the week.

Fenner was something special -- and he knew it. He had those head-turning clothes. (He said he hoped to someday own a new outfit for every day of the year.) He wore a thick gold chain with a gold cross. (He once said the chain cost $1,500. He now says it cost $300.) And, before long, he would be driving the telephone-equipped BMW.

"The first time I saw it, I said, 'Boy, you have a nice car!' " Gill recalled. "Derrick said, 'This is my graduation present from my dad for all the good work I did to get through high school.' "

If Fenner personified flamboyance, his coaches seemed to understand.

"Derrick is going to be Derrick," head coach Dick Crum liked to say.

"Derrick, not coming from a very wealthy situation, may have felt, 'Well, maybe this is the image of how college football ought to be,' " Gill said. "To be honest with you, a lot of our kids thought that Derrick came from a well-to-do family."

But as Fenner's star at North Carolina rose, so did his problems with Tar Heels coaches. Crum frequently questioned his work ethic -- on the field and in the classroom -- and Fenner played sparingly toward the end of his freshman season.

"If we had to do it over, I wouldn't have let Derrick play his freshman year," Gill said recently. "Derrick needed a year to regroup and organize himself. He needed to do a lot of things that maybe he didn't have a chance to do because he was thrown in the fire. He had to learn to balance the academics and the athletics. And I don't think we gave him the opportunity to do that."

Fenner earned enough credits to be eligible for his sophomore season.

"But Derrick just got by," Gill said.

His sophomore season was chaotic. Coming off the bench, he rushed for 216 yards in the season opener against The Citadel. The following week, he was suspended from playing against Kansas because he missed the team bus to the airport. The disciplinary problems continued all season, but Fenner always seemed to rebound. Most memorable was his performance against Virginia: held out of the starting lineup for being late for two practices, he still managed to rush for an ACC-record 328 yards -- the 11th best outing in NCAA major college history. And Fenner wasn't satisfied. "Next week, I'm going to try to get 400," he said.

The better Fenner did on the field, the worse he did in the classroom -- or so it seemed to Gill.

"Maybe there were two papers to be done and maybe he did just one," Gill explained. "So he didn't do everything that he was supposed to do . . . I think a lot of it had to do with being successful early. Derrick would say, 'Coach, I'm pretty good. I'm a good player. I'm better than anybody else on this team. I'm getting more yards.' In saying those things, he led us to believe that, well, maybe he thinks he's too good."

Fenner declined to discuss his academic problems at North Carolina. But in an interview last fall, he said: "I guess, since I can remember, I've always been a little slack on things. But I've always had an optimistic attitude about myself. I hope everyone can look at me as a great athlete and a pretty good guy. If they don't, well then, they have a problem."

Pearson said he first learned of Fenner's academic troubles during a visit to Chapel Hill last season. "I spoke to Coach Crum about it," the Oxon Hill coach said. "I said, 'Hey, if he's not doing it, then you need to sit him down. If you deal with him like that, then he'll bring up his grades.' Coach Crum said, 'It hasn't gotten to that point yet.' "

Fenner finished the season with 1,250 yards -- tops in the ACC, fifth best in the nation -- and North Carolina was invited to the Aloha Bowl. But when grades were released for the fall semester, and Fenner had failed two of his classes, it had gotten to that point. Fenner was suspended from the team and his scholarship was withdrawn.

A star without a stage, he returned to Oxon Hill, took what he described as a $600-a-week job arranging contracts for a trash collecting company and made plans to regain his eligibility by taking two correspondence courses, then returning to North Carolina in the summer.

"Next fall, I plan to basically be almost bionic," Fenner told The Daily Tar Heel newspaper. "For one thing, I'm going to be angry when I step on the field. I have two real big goals, to be an all-American and be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy."

In another interview, Fenner described his daily routine as follows: "I'm making a little money, having a little social life, hanging out with the guys."

But there were concerns in Oxon Hill about the direction Fenner's football career had taken. "One night around Christmas, he came by to see us and he had on a fur coat," said Mel Harley, an aide at the Glassmanor Community Center, where Fenner often had played basketball. "He was wearing rings and bracelets and chains. I told Derrick, 'Everybody's looking for you to do big and all, but you're messing up.' Derrick said, 'Mel, don't worry. The big money will be there for me in the pros.' " The Arrest

Early on the afternoon of April 9, a Prince George's police officer stopped the driver of a telephone-equipped 1987 GMC Jimmy truck, believing it was not properly insured, according to a law enforcement source. The source said the truck was registered to Anthony T. Desasso who, according to court records, had pleaded guilty in Washington in 1983 to carrying a pistol without a license. But on this afternoon, the driver and sole occupant of the truck was not Desasso. It was Fenner.

While Fenner was being questioned by police, a friend of Fenner's, Tyrone (Smokey) Davis, pulled up in a telephone-equipped BMW, apparently to offer assistance. The BMW was Fenner's. People who know them say Davis and Fenner are friends. Joseph said Fenner has known Davis for "some time."

According to court records, Davis has been convicted of stealing a police motorcycle, breaking and entering, carrying a handgun and attempted unauthorized use of a vehicle.

When Fenner could produce no registration for the truck, the officer searched the vehicle and found a .38-caliber revolver and a round of ammunition under the front passenger seat, according to a law enforcement source. During a search of Fenner's jacket, the officer found a plastic bag containing 25 small plastic vials with traces of a white powdery substance, police say they later found to be cocaine, the source said.

Fenner was arrested on charges of cocaine possession and illegally transporting a handgun. He was released on personal recognizance.

Fenner, in the recent interview, declined to discuss the gun and cocaine charges, except to say, "I am absolutely, most definitely innocent." Joseph said his client has a "very reasonable explanation" for both charges. He declined to elaborate.

Fenner did not inform North Carolina officials of his arrest, and it went unreported by the media for almost two months.

In early May, Fenner returned to Chapel Hill, enrolled in summer school and rented an apartment with Bobby Lewis, a walk-on football player from Washington.

Fenner and Lewis headed home for the Memorial Day weekend, and on Saturday morning, May 23, they visited The Hub Furniture Center in Marlow Heights, where Fenner paid $3,092.16 -- cash -- for a bed, sofa, lamp, loveseat, cocktail tables and end tables, according to store receipts. Fenner and Lewis parted company in the afternoon. Joseph said of his client's purchases at The Hub, "That's something we'll explain down the road."

Sometime after 9 that evening, according to Hyattsville police, four or five men went to the Kirkwood Village Apartments in West Hyattsville, entered a grassy courtyard and began shouting that they were going to take over drug trafficking in the area. According to police, there have been about 100 arrests at the apartment complex this year, most on charges related to the sale and distribution of crack, a cocaine derivative often sold in small plastic vials.

At 9:55 p.m., an unknown number of these men, brandishing automatic weapons, opened fire in the courtyard. Two bullets struck 19-year-old Marcellus Leach in the head and shoulder. Another hit 17-year-old Kenneth Robinson in the leg. Robinson would survive the shooting. Leach would not.

No suspects were immediately arrested, and Hyattsville police began taking statements from Kirkwood residents the following day. Some residents reported they had heard "talk" that a man known as "Darrell" or "D" or "Derrick" was involved in the shooting, Hyattsville Police Lt. Dean Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he had seen Fenner at Kirkwood on "three or four" occasions, beginning in early March. "I didn't know his name at the time," Caldwell said. "There was just this guy who looked like the side of a mountain. He really stood out. I asked people about him and they knew him only as Darrell or 'D' or Derrick from D.C. They didn't know him as Derrick Fenner the football player. The times I saw him, he wasn't doing anything wrong."

On May 29, a Hyattsville police detective received a phone tip from an anonymous male that four men, including a "North Carolina State football player" named Derrick Fenner, were responsible for the shootings, according to Caldwell.

Caldwell phoned Fenner's stepmother, leaving a message for Fenner to call him. Fenner did, the following day. "I told Mr. Fenner that I wanted to meet with him," Caldwell said. "He agreed to meet me at the station."

They met at 8 that evening in the large blue and white trailer that serves as temporary headquarters for the Hyattsville police.

"Mr. Fenner was wearing jeans, a white sweatshirt, a thick gold chain and a large gold ring with 'BMW' on it," Caldwell recalled. "When I started talking to him, he was shaking like a leaf." Joseph said it is understandable that Fenner was nervous "considering the circumstances of what Derrick knew at that time."

Caldwell advised Fenner of his Miranda rights. "Then Mr. Fenner volunteered to write a statement," Caldwell said. "He said, 'I'll write a statement, but can you give me protection?' I said, 'I'll first have to find out why you need protection.' "

Caldwell took Fenner to a small, windowless room with two rickety chairs and a well-worn wooden table. The interview room.

Caldwell left the room, and Fenner began writing. Twenty-five minutes later, he emerged with a 25-line statement, written on two sheets of paper.

In the statement, Fenner wrote that on the night of May 23, he was at a 7-Eleven in Oxon Hill, where he was approached by three men who said they had just returned from shooting up the Kirkwood apartments, Caldwell said. Fenner wrote that the men bragged about having used every last one of their bullets during the shooting, Caldwell said.

After reading the statement, Caldwell said he asked Fenner, "Is this a complete statement of everything you know about the incident?" According to Caldwell, Fenner responded that at the 7-Eleven a fourth man had also spoken of his involvement in the shooting. "Mr. Fenner told me he would call me later on with the man's name," Caldwell said.

The following day, Fenner phoned Caldwell and named Tyrone Davis as the fourth man who was at the 7-Eleven.

Fenner declined in the recent interview to discuss the statements he gave to Hyattsville police. Asked if he considers the statements to be accurate, Joseph said, "I believe so, based upon my analysis of everything that's gone on."

Over the next week, Hyattsville police showed a spread of nine photographs, including Fenner's, to more than two dozen people. According to Caldwell, some of them identified the man depicted in Fenner's photo as being involved in the shooting. Others, he said, did not.

Joseph said the people who identified Fenner were mistaken. "Since I've represented Derrick, I've looked around to see whether there are look-alikes to Derrick," he said. "And it is incredible the number of individuals who look like Derrick looks. You know, a tall, well-built black man."

Joseph said he has interviewed "more than five" people who are willing to testify they were with Fenner "somewhere other than the Kirkwood Apartments" on the night of the shooting. He said these witnesses include "friends, acquaintances and family members" of Fenner's.

On May 31, Fenner returned to North Carolina in his BMW. The following day, he received a message to phone Caldwell at the Hyattsville police station.

Fenner phoned Caldwell. The lieutenant told him that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on a charge of first-degree murder.

"There was silence for a few seconds after I told him that," Caldwell recalled. "Then Mr. Fenner said, 'You got to be kidding me.' "

Caldwell gave Fenner a choice of being extradited or returning voluntarily to Maryland.

"I'll come back there myself," Fenner said, according to Caldwell. "But first I'll find those {so-and-sos} who did this murder, and I'll bring them to you."

On the morning of June 2, Fenner headed back to Maryland, making several mobile telephone calls to Caldwell along the way. He arrived at the Hyattsville police station with a lawyer, Joel Worshtil of Landover. Fenner's mother, Emma McNair, had been waiting at the station for several hours.

Fenner was arrested, photographed and fingerprinted. He had one request, to meet privately with his mother. Fenner and his mother were taken to the processing room, where for 20 minutes they talked, under the watchful eye of a surveillance camera.

Emma McNair emerged from the room crying. Minutes later, her son was handcuffed, then transported to the district court commissioner's office, where he was booked. An initial request for bond was denied, and Fenner was taken to the county detention center.

The arrest drew strong reactions from the men who had guided Fenner's career.

"Derrick's getting a really bad rap," said Pearson. "He may may have got hung up with a bad group. But I know that he's not capable of murder."

"I think had the kid been in school, he would have been okay," Gill said. "I'm angry. I also feel bad for him. I hope he gets out of it."

"If what he is charged with is true," Crum said, "then his football career here is over."

North Carolina acted quickly to distance itself from Fenner. In a statement, Chancellor Christopher Fordham said: "I have the utmost of confidence in the athletic director, our coaching staff and in the faculty surveillance and conduct of admission and academic programs. This is an unfortunate and isolated incident, and this institution will continue to operate a high-quality program." 'I Didn't Do Anything'

By June 30, when he was indicted by a Prince George's grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, unlawful use of a handgun and on unrelated charges of possession of cocaine and unlawful transport of a handgun, Fenner had spent four weeks in jail.

He passed some of this time discussing his case with lawyers Joseph and Worshtil, playing cards with an inmate he had befriended, and trying to rehabilitate a shoulder injury from last season.

During one visit to the jail, Joseph said his client said repeatedly, "I can't believe this is happening to me. I didn't do anything. Why am I here?" Fenner has pleaded innocent to all charges.

Joseph said Fenner also spoke tearfully of his failure to maintain his eligibility at North Carolina. "He used the word 'immature,' " Joseph said. "He said he really wanted to do well at North Carolina but that he got carried away by the atmosphere, with being a big man on campus. It was a little more than he could handle at that point."

During another visit to the jail, Fenner spoke of hiring his two defense lawyers to negotiate his first NFL contract, according to Joseph. "Derrick feels that if we can negotiate him out of this, we can negotiate him into anything," Joseph said.

On July 15 -- five days after Judge Levin set the $100,000 bond -- Fenner was free. To gain his release, Fenner's family had to pay a bail bondsman $10,000 for the $100,000 bond. "I never appreciated freedom this much before," Joseph quoted Fenner as saying. "Being able to go to the right. Or go to the left. Wherever I want."

But Joseph does not want his client to go anywhere he wants, not just yet. "There have been threats," Joseph said. "People close to Derrick have been threatened. I have concerns about his safety." Joseph declined to elaborate.

Joseph also has been concerned that Fenner might say something unwise in a news interview. But in the only interview he has given, Fenner chose his words carefully.

Q. How are you spending your time?

Fenner: "I'm working out every day. Harder than ever. Until I can't get up anymore. I'm doing the same Carolina workout that I used to do, only double."

Q. What's the Carolina workout?

Fenner: "Running, lifting, jumping, rolling and diving on the ground."

Q. Did you commit any of the crimes for which you've been charged?

Fenner: "No. All the charges are a horrible mistake. All of them. As for the charge of murder, I've never hurt anybody in my life. Never."

Q. Do you have any goals?

Fenner: "My main goal is to lead a righteous life. As far as football is concerned, when this is all over, I'm going to be unstoppable, as far as my attitude."

The investigation into the shooting incident at Kirkwood is continuing. On July 24, according to law enforcement sources, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Tyrone Davis on a charge of first-degree murder, stemming from the shooting at Kirkwood.

If he is convicted of all charges, Fenner could face up to two life sentences plus 47 years. Sometime this fall -- in the midst of a football season that once held so much promise -- Derrick Fenner will learn his fate.