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Judge stays inmate's scheduled execution

JACKSON, Ga. -- A judge on Tuesday halted the execution of a Georgia man less than an hour before he was set to die for the 2001 murders of a woman and her 3-year-old daughter, acting after the inmate signaled he would file a new round of appeals.

Butts County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson postponed Nicholas Cody Tate's execution until further notice about 45 minutes before Tate was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson for the murders of Chrissie Williams and her daughter Katelyn. It's unclear how long his execution would be delayed, but it often takes this type of appeal years to work through the court system.

Tate was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death. He waived his right to appeal at a hearing four years later, saying "you caught me red-handed." Since then, he had refused to challenge his conviction and death sentence through habeas corpus appeals.

Tate appeared to have a change of heart as his execution neared. He agreed late Tuesday to file a habeas appeal, forcing the judge to halt the execution. Prison officials notified the media in Jackson minutes after the stay was filed. Tate's attorneys expect to file more court briefings in the days to come.

Friends and family of the victims said they were devastated by the developments. Kellie Young, Chrissie's older sister, said state attorneys contacted her late Tuesday with news that Tate was going to file an appeal.

"We're going to go through the courts again," she said. "I'm still in shock. I wanted closure. We just have to hope things turn out the way they should."

Until now, Tate's attorneys have struggled to find ways to delay the execution, expressing unease that an inmate could be put to death without exhausting all his appeals. They abandoned an attempt to have Tate's brother file an appeal on his behalf, and the pardons board on Monday rejected his request for clemency.

Court records detail how Nicholas Tate and two of his younger brothers, Dustin and Chad, purchased ammunition, duct tape and knives at a sporting goods store in December 2001 and then sought out Chrissie Williams' home because they believed she had a stash of drugs and cash.

The men knocked on the door and when Katelyn answered, chaos ensued. Tate ordered his brother Chad to silence the girl. Chad Tate unsuccessfully tried to strangle her with a telephone cord, and he then used Nicholas' knife to slit her throat. His other brother, Dustin, fled the house in fear after assaulting the victims. Before leaving, Nicholas Tate put a seat cushion over Chrissie's head and fired one shot through the pillow to kill her.

The brothers fled to Mississippi, kidnapping a 23-year-old woman from a gas station. They released her but kept the car as they sped toward Oklahoma. There, the brothers contacted their parents in Dallas, Ga. and soon negotiated their surrender to police.

Tate's two brothers were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the violence. But Nicholas Tate, who prosecutors said was the ringleader, was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to murder charges in November 2005.

He filed a motion for a new trial a year later, but at a 2009 hearing he changed his mind. That's when he said he wanted to waive all future appeals, and the judge accepted his request, finding him to be coherent and articulate. Even so, his attorneys went ahead with a direct appeal, and the Georgia Supreme Court rejected their arguments.

Young, the victim's sister, said Tate deserved to die for his crimes.

"What they done was cruel. They went into her house, where she thought she was safe, and took her and her child," she said. "Only animals do that. What they did was devastating to her family."