An elderly man convicted of the fatal shooting of his ailing wife should be freed from prison while he appeals his life sentence for first-degree murder, Gov. Robert Graham said yesterday.

Roswell Gilbert, 76, "was elated . . . to hear that the governor was so compassionate," defense lawyer Harry Gulkin said. "But when I explained the mechanics of it, he realized that some of his enthusiasm may be premature."

Before Gilbert can be freed from a correctional institution southeast of Tampa, at least three cabinet members must concur with the governor. Two said they oppose Graham's recommendation, two said they support it, and two said they will decide later.

"The governor has said my father is not a menace to society," Martha Moran, of Ruxton, Md., said.

The recommendation proposes that Gilbert remain free while his appeals are being heard in state courts. In Florida, bond is denied those convicted of first-degree murder.

A Fort Lauderdale jury convicted Gilbert in May of first-degree murder in the March slaying of his wife, Emily, 73, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and a brittle bone condition.

He was sentenced to life in prison, which carries a mandatory 25-year term.