Sharod Graham, a former high school track star who was once declared a hero for helping to save an elderly woman from her burning home, was ordered yesterday to stand trial for murder.

Graham, 21, of Callowhill Street near 60th, is accused of fatally beating and attempting to rape Eraina Merrit in an alley behind an Olney deli on March 24.

Merritt, 47, a mother of four, was stripped nearly naked and suffered a fractured skull and brain swelling, which led to her death, Assistant District Attorney Gail Fairman said.

She died of her injuries on March 29. Police arrested Graham April 1, after witnesses placed him at the scene of the attack - behind the Olney Steak and Beer Deli at Broad Street near Olney Avenue.

"I'm just glad they got him. I'm glad he's off the streets," said Larry Merritt, the victim's father.

A deli employee testified yesterday during Graham's preliminary hearing that he remembered that Graham had been there the night of the attack because he regularly drank malt liquor at the establishment, and because of the distinctive striped shirt he wore.

The witness said Graham appeared to be high on something other than beer that night, based on "his posture [and] the way he was standing against the wall."

Though police have said that Graham did not know Merritt, the witness said he saw the two with a group of others standing in front of the deli that evening.

"It's the spot to chill," he said.

Defense attorney William Bowe argued that other than a striped shirt, no evidence linked Graham to the victim's death.

Municipal Judge Patrick F. Dugan praised the witness for defying the "code of the street" to testify. Looking at Graham, the judge called Merritt's death "senseless," "horrible," and "brutal," before telling him: "It would appear that you are responsible."

Rhona Garland, Merritt's first cousin, said she was "most certainly glad that the wheels of justice are most certainly turning."

Dugan also held Graham on attempted-rape charges.