A judge has granted the only woman on US federal death row a stay of execution to check whether she is competent to be put to death on mental health grounds.
Lisa Montgomery, who strangled an expectant mother before cutting her unborn child from the womb and passing it off as her own, was due to die by lethal injection on Tuesday at the Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana.
Judge James Patrick Hanlon, from Indiana, based his ruling on evidence that Montgomery, 52, was unable to understand the government’s rationale for her execution.
Separately, the US Court of Appeals also voted to stay the execution, delaying any new execution date past Donald Trump’s White House departure – unless the Supreme Court intervenes.
Montgomery would have become the first woman to be federally executed in America for 70 years.
Montgomery drove 170 miles from her home in Kansas to the house of heavily pregnant dog breeder Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, in Skidmore, Missouri, in December 2004 under the guise of picking up a puppy.
But instead she strangled her with a rope and used a knife to perform a makeshift caesarean before fleeing with the premature baby girl.
She was caught after trying to pass the child off as her own as part of a plot to win custody of two of her four children.
Her computer records showed she had researched caesareans and ordered a birthing kit.
Montgomery’s lawyers have argued she had been sexually abused and was mentally ill at the time of the crime.
Montgomery’s lawyer, Kelley Henry, welcomed Tuesday’s ruling and said the court was right to put a stop to her execution.
Ms Henry said in a statement: “Mrs Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence.”
Alfred Bourgeois and Brandon Bernard were executed within days of each other in December, with the cases of Cory Johnson and Dustin John Higgs still ongoing.
Before then, only three federal executions had taken place since 1988 when they were reinstated by the US Supreme Court.
State executions have continued to take place, but federal ones have remained rare.
President-elect Mr Biden is opposed to the death penalty and says he plans to end capital punishment in the US.