A federal judge has delayed the execution of the only woman on death row in the US.
Lisa Montgomery was convicted of strangling an eight-months pregnant woman in 2004 and cutting her baby out with a kitchen knife.
The child survived the attack and prosecutors said Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass it off as her own.
Montgomery’s lawyers say she suffers from serious mental illness after years of physical and mental abuse.
She was due to be executed by lethal injection in Indiana this month, but judge Randolph Moss delayed it after her lawyers caught coronavirus and asked for more time to file a clemency petition.
The judge has now scrapped an order by the director of the Bureau of Prisons that set another execution date for 12 January.
He said it was not made “in accordance with law” because a stay of execution was in effect when the decision was made.
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The Bureau of Prisons is now barred from setting a new date for the 52-year-old’s execution until at least 1 January – and an inmate must generally get 20 days’ notice.
It raises the possibility of the execution being scheduled for after Joe Biden‘s inauguration as president on 20 January.
Mr Biden opposes the death penalty and a spokesperson has said he would try to get it scrapped when he takes office.
However, it is not known whether Mr Biden will pause all executions when he comes to power.
President Donald Trump‘s administration restarted federal executions after a 17-year pause in July and has since carried out 10 death sentences, including two earlier in December.
It has executed more people in a year than any other administration in more than 130 years.
In a statement, one of Montgomery’s lawyers, Sandra Babcock, said: “Given the severity of Mrs Montgomery’s mental illness, the sexual and physical torture she endured throughout her life, and the connection between her trauma and the facts of her crime, we appeal to President Trump to grant her mercy, and commute her sentence to life imprisonment.”
Two other federal inmates are also scheduled to be put to death next month but have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting their legal teams to also seek a stay of execution.