ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ Gov. Parris Glendening halted an execution for the first time Wednesday, commuting convicted murderer Eugene Colvin-El's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Glendening's action comes after other states' reassessments of the death penalty and six days after Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush blocked an execution for the first time as governor in Texas.

Colvin-El, who was twice sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a woman during a robbery, had been scheduled to be executed next week. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal, leaving him no other apparent legal recourse.

Glendening, a Democrat, has twice refused to commute a death sentence, but he had been under intense pressure from minority and religious groups to stop the execution of Colvin-El.

Death penalty opponents argued that Colvin-El, who is black, should not be put to death while the state is studying whether capital punishment is administered in a racist manner.

Twelve of the 18 men facing execution in the state are black.

Colvin-El's supporters also argued he was convicted on skimpy evidence _ fingerprints found outside the house where the murder victim was found.

Glendening said he had allowed two previous executions to take place because he felt with absolute certainty that the men had committed the crimes.

``I believe that Colvin-El committed this horrible crime,'' Glendening said. ``But I do not have the same level of absolute certainty that I had in the first two cases.''

Colvin-El was sentenced for murdering Lena Buckman of Cocoa Beach, Fla. She was stabbed 28 times with a kitchen knife Sept. 8, 1980, on her 82nd birthday, at her daughter's home in Pikesville.

Baltimore County prosecutors contended the circumstantial evidence was ``overwhelming'' and Colvin-El was the greatest impediment to his own defense in 1981, refusing to allow his attorney to call witnesses.

Appeals to spare Colvin-El's life had come from Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore and prominent politicians.

In January, Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican death penalty supporter, ordered a moratorium on executions in his state while death penalty procedures are examined for fairness.

Bush last week blocked the execution of Ricky McGinn, convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of his stepdaughter, by approving a 30-day reprieve to allow for DNA tests.