LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man who admitted raping a 6-month-old baby but claims he never meant to kill her is set to be executed after his last pleas for mercy failed.
Steve Smith is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Lucasville in southern Ohio at 10 a.m. Wednesday for the September 1998 killing of his live-in girlfriend's infant daughter, Autumn Carter.
Smith, 46, denied killing Autumn for more than a decade but recently tried to get his sentence reduced to life in prison, arguing that he was too drunk to realize that his assault was killing the baby.
The Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich unanimously turned him down, with the board finding that Smith is among "the worst of the worst."
"Smith took the life of an innocent 6-month-old infant while using the baby to sexually gratify himself," the board said in its decision. "It is hard to fathom a crime more repulsive or reprehensible in character."
Smith's daughter, sister and niece all plan to witness the executive. They believe he's innocent despite his admission of guilt and maintain he only admitted to the crime because he's given up hope after 15 years of prison and has no memory of the assault.
"I know my dad's innocent," said 21-year-old Brittney Smith, Smith's only child. "I do not believe he did this, and you know, he raised all my cousins and my sister before I was even born, and he never did anything (sexually)."
Brittney Smith, who was 7 when her father was arrested, said she can't reconcile the crime with the dad she knew, the man who taught her and her sister to fish and play card games, and watched Disney's "The Lion King" over and over with them.
"He's a wonderful dad," she said, adding that she recently introduced her father to his only grandchild, a 16-month-old girl named Alannah, whom he was allowed to hold and pose for photos with at a state prison.
Autumn's mother, grandmother and aunt also plan to witness Smith's execution, and feel that it will bring some justice for her killing.
"This is honestly going to be one of the biggest moments of our lives," said Autumn's aunt, Kaylee Bashline. "We get to watch justice be brought to this little girl. There's not really anything better than that."
She said her family has no reason to doubt Smith's guilt, especially with his recent admission, and said it's not fair that he's had 15 years since the crime to live, visit family and say his goodbyes.
"Autumn didn't get a chance to live her life. Even in prison, he still gets to live. He's getting fed, he gets shelter," Bashline said. "He got all that, and what did she get? She got to be killed and put in the ground where none of us gets to see her anymore."
Back on that awful night of September 29, 1998, Autumn's mother, Kesha Frye, was awoken by Smith, who she'd lived with for four months.
Smith, extremely drunk and naked, laid a naked and lifeless Autumn on Frye's bed, according to court records.
Frye rushed the baby and her other 2-year-old daughter to a neighbor's house and called 911. Doctors spent more than an hour trying to revive her before she was pronounced dead.
The baby was covered in bruises and welts, had cuts on her forehead, and had severe injuries showing she had been brutally raped, although there was no semen.
At the home, there was no sign of forced entry, and police found a large amount of white cloth that came from Autumn's diaper strewn about; police found the rest of the diaper in a garbage bin outside, along with 10 empty beer cans and a T-shirt.
At the time, Smith told police that he "didn't do anything."
"I'm not sick like that," he said.
At trial, Smith didn't testify in his own defense on the advice of his attorneys, even as prosecutors repeatedly referred to him as a "baby raper," showed pictures of Autumn's battered body and told jurors that her assault lasted up to a half-hour.
Expert witnesses for Smith said he may have accidentally suffocated the girl within three to five minutes of the assault.
The jury found Smith guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced him to die.
At an April 2 hearing in which Smith sought to have his death sentence reduced to life in prison, he admitted to the crime and said he didn't mean to kill Autumn.
He told Ohio Parole Board that he was not in his right mind the night of the crime and has to live every day with what he did. He said he was sorry and wished he could ask Autumn for forgiveness.
Smith is set to become the 51st inmate put to death in Ohio since it resumed executions in 1999.
The state has enough of its lethal injection drug, the powerful sedative pentobarbital, to execute Smith and two other inmates before the supply expires. Eight more inmates are scheduled to die from November through mid-2015.