Sen. Decatur Trotter (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, yesterday called on Gov. William Donald Schaefer to commute the sentences of two death row inmates who were minors when they committed their crimes.

Trotter said he had sent a letter to Schaefer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day "in honor of a person who supported life, not death." Trotter said he expected the black caucus to endorse his position and to press for passage of a bill before the General Assembly this year that would abolish the death penalty.

Maryland's Catholic bishops asked Schaefer last month to commute the sentences of the two inmates. A spokeswoman for the governor said yesterday that he does not plan to consider commutations until the inmates have exhausted their appeals in court.

Schaefer said in December that he continues to believe that the death penalty is warranted for certain crimes, but he said that he had been listening to requests that he reduce to life imprisonment the sentences of James Trimble, 23, and Lawrence Johnson, 26, who were 17 when they committed unrelated murders in Baltimore County.

Last year, Schaefer supported a bill passed by the General Assembly that exempts minors from the death penalty. The bill applies to people under age 18 at the time the crime was committed, but it did not apply retroactively to include Trimble and Johnson, the two people on death row who fall into that category.