By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A judge halted the execution on Tuesday of a man who had been due to be put to death in Georgia for terrorizing and murdering a woman and her 3-year-old daughter during a 2001 home invasion that turned into mayhem, officials said.
Nicholas Cody Tate, 32, had been due to be executed by lethal injection after pleading guilty to the murders of Chrissie Williams, 26, and her daughter, Katelyn, and later abandoning appeals.
But a judge issued a stay around two hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. execution after Tate reversed course and decided to fight the state in a move that could delay his execution for years, said Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.
"He apparently decided he wanted to appeal," Kane added.
Tate's grisly crime began when he and his two younger brothers went to the Williams house in Paulding County, about an hour outside of Atlanta, intending to steal money, weapons and drugs and rape Chrissie Williams, according to a Georgia Supreme Court synopsis of the case.
Three-year-old Katelyn answered the door and let Nicholas Tate and his brothers inside. Nicholas Tate, considered the ringleader, and his brother Chad Tate took Katelyn into a bedroom and molested her. When the toddler refused to stop screaming, Nicholas Tate ordered his brother to silence the girl, and Katelyn's throat was slit, the synopsis said.
Nicholas Tate and his other brother, Dustin, forced Chrissie Williams into another bedroom, where they handcuffed her to a bed and covered her eyes and mouth with duct tape. Nicholas Tate eventually placed a pillow over her head and shot her.
Authorities later arrested the Tate brothers in Oklahoma. All three pleaded guilty. Chad and Dustin were sentenced to life in prison while Nicholas was sentenced to death.
Tate, who had been scheduled to die on his birthday, declined a special last meal. He would have been the 35th person Georgia has executed by lethal injection.
Tate's execution would also have been the third in the United States this year, following Rodrigo Hernandez in Texas and Gary Welch in Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Last year, 43 people were executed.
Thirty-four U.S. states currently have the death penalty, the center said.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch, Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)