Gov. Ted Schwinden has granted clemency to condemned killer David C. Keith, accepting a Board of Pardons recommendation to commute Keith's death sentence to life in prison without parole.

Schwinden, who left office Monday, said his decision was based on his review of Keith's file, a meeting with Keith at the state prison Wednesday and a telephone conversation with the family of the victim, Harry Lee Shryock Jr. of Polson.Keith, 32, originally from Spokane, Wash., was scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 20 and would have been the first inmate executed in Montana in more than 45 years.

The governor said he met with Keith for 30 to 45 minutes in an unannounced visit. "He certainly manifests a deep sense of remorse," said Schwinden, a Democrat. "He is a very strong Christian."

When asked why he wanted to meet Keith before acting on the clemency request, Schwinden said, "Would you want to make a decision on whether a man lives or dies without looking him in the eyes?"

The governor was reluctant to discuss the specific reasons for his decision, but said it was based on the statutory criteria in clemency cases - the social condition of the inmate and circumstances surrounding the crime.

In its recommendation for clemency, the Board of Pardons noted Keith is partially paralyzed and nearly blind from gunshot wounds, has undergone a legitimate religious conversion and may have shot his victim in reflex to being shot himself.