(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily halted Alabama's planned execution of an 83-year-old convicted pipe-bomb killer, minutes before he was set to become the oldest person put to death in the modern era of U.S. capital punishment.
The execution of Walter Moody had been scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT (2300 GMT) at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. The death warrant expires at midnight (0500 GMT Friday) and state authorities were still preparing to conduct a lethal injection if the court lifts the hold and denies appeals.
The Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors U.S. capital punishment, said the oldest inmate put to death since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 was 77-year-old John Nixon in Mississippi in December 2005.
There have been seven executions this year in the United States.
Moody was convicted of mailing a bomb in 1989 that killed U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance, 58, and another explosive that killed Georgia civil rights attorney Robert Robinson.
Prosecutors have said Moody sent the bomb to the judge in anger over a 1972 bomb conviction that Moody felt derailed his career, and sent the other to the civil rights lawyer to confuse investigators.
Lawyers for Moody asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to spare Moody's life based on his transfer from the federal court system to Alabama's.
Moody first received seven life sentences in a U.S. district court in 1991 for the deadly bombings. Alabama later indicted him on capital murder charges and his trial began in the state in 1996, court records showed.
Moody's lawyer argued the transfer to an Alabama prison was illegal and he should first serve his federal sentence.
Lawyers for Alabama responded that the federal government consented to the transfer and the state had the right to implement the death penalty handed out by an Alabama court.
Although it has not been an issue in Moody's last-minute appeals, age and poor health were major factors in a botched execution in Alabama earlier this year when the state tried to put to death Doyle Hamm, 61, who had terminal cancer and severely compromised veins.
The execution was called off while Hamm, who survived the ordeal, was on a death chamber gurney and medical staff could not place a line for the lethal injection.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta; Editing by Peter Cooney)