"I've never been this afraid," said Amina Lawal, 32, tears in her eyes, as she made her way inside, carrying her nearly 2-year-old girl in her arms in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina.
Lawal, a divorced woman, was convicted of adultery in March 2002 by an Islamic court following the birth of her girl, Wasila, out of wedlock.
Acting on the Islamic law, or Shariah, adopted in a dozen predominantly Muslim northern Nigerian states, judges ordered Lawal buried up to her neck in sand and then stoned to death.
While her appeals continue, judges have ordered Lawal's execution postponed until she weans the child born of her extramarital affair.
The alleged father of the baby denied responsibility and was acquitted.
"Amina is very worried. Sometimes she can't eat," Lawal's uncle, 50-year-old Magaji Liman, told reporters Wednesday. "She wants to see the end of this case so that she can marry and have a normal life."
As the case opened in a stifling hot courtroom, Lawal calmly nursed and played with her gurgling toddler.
She rarely watched the lawyers, at one point falling asleep with her toddler also nodding off in her arms.
Nearly an hour into the hearing, the chief judge, or Grand Khadi, Aminu Ibrahim, warned the dozen or more volunteer and charity-appointed attorneys clamoring to give arguments on Lawal's behalf not to stall their appeals.
"The case has dragged on for too long," Ibrahim said.
"It is not good…to keep her fate in the balance any further," Ibrahim said, prompting Lawal to gaze up at the judge briefly.
Katsina state authorities have insisted the case go through the Shariah appeals process despite requests by Nigeria's federal government that Lawal be freed.
Past hearings have repeatedly been canceled, in what some have suspected is an attempt to deflect attention following international campaigns by rights movements and women's groups.
Aminu Musa Yawuri, one of the defense lawyers, told the court that Lawal should be acquitted, arguing that an earlier confession was invalid because no one had explained to her the nature of the offense or the punishment.
Yawuri also said that under some legal interpretations of Shariah law, babies can remain in gestation in their mother's womb for up to five years, making it legally possible — although biologically unlikely — that her ex-husband could have fathered the child.
Lawal and her former husband divorced two years before the baby was born.
Shariah court prosecutor Nurulhuda Mohammad Darma contended her pregnancy and status as a divorcee were "enough evidence" that adultery had been committed.
"There is no other excuse that is acceptable," Darma told the court.
By Oloche Samuel