A Prince George's County jury recommended a life sentence yesterday for Ronald Nathaniel Wooten-Bey for his role in the 1983 fatal shooting of a reputed Oxon Hill drug dealer.

The Circuit Court jury, after deliberating about four hours, declined to recommend a death sentence for the 37-year-old former Washington resident, saying that sending Wooten-Bey to the gas chamber would "anguish his family" and eliminate his ability to help educate other inmates.

Elvira White, one of Wooten-Bey's lawyers, said she was elated by the jury's decision. "It has been our position from the beginning that this case was inappropriate for the death penalty," White said. "It was an unintentional shooting. It was not the kind of heinous crime that warrants the death penalty. The jury verdict speaks to that."

No defendant from Prince George's Circuit Court has been sent to death row since capital punishment was reinstated in Maryland in 1978. Only one jury has sentenced a defendant to death, and that decision was overturned by the trial judge.

Christal Stanbrough, one of the jurors in Wooten-Bey's case, said that some jurors wanted to impose death, but several were against sentencing him to death from the start of deliberations.

Assistant State's Attorney Robert Harvey Jr., who prosecuted the case, said he was disappointed by the jury's decision. But he said he expected it because he was unable to provide the jury with a complete history of Wooten-Bey's criminal record because of the laws of evidence.

Wooten-Bey was found not guilty by reason of insanity of first-degree in the District in 1970, was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital and escaped, Harvey said. But Harvey could not present that information to the jury because it was not a conviction.

Wooten-Bey and two other men were charged in the October 1983 slaying of Rogers Lee Porter of Southview Drive in what authorities described as a robbery gone awry.

Wooten-Bey already is serving a sentence of 10 years in prison. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery in 1984, a charge stemming from the same shooting.

Judge Vincent J. Femia scheduled sentencing for Dec. 10.