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 after molesting the toddler, a corrections spokeswoman 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, during a robbery that turned into mayhem.
But a judge issued a stay ahead of an execution that had been scheduled for 7 p.m. local time, said Gwendolyn Hogan, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections. Tate would have been the third person executed in the United States this year.
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 Williams answered the door and let Nicholas Tate and his brothers inside. Nicholas Tate, considered the ringleader, and his brother Chad Tate took Katelyn Williams into a bedroom and molested her. When the toddler refused to stop screaming, Nicolas Tate ordered his brother to silence the girl. Katelyn Williams' throat was slit, the synopsis said.
Nicolas 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. Nicolas 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. The state has 95 men and one woman on death row.
Tate's execution would be the third in the U.S. 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)