Steve Smith set to be executed in death of baby girl in Mansfield

COLUMBUS, Ohio - When Ohio executes Steve Smith by lethal injection on Wednesday, six women plan to be in the room.

Three are Smith's relatives and, despite his admission of guilt, don't believe he killed 6-month-old Autumn Carter while he raped her in Mansfield in northern Ohio in 1998.

The other three are Autumn's family, and they see Smith's execution as a long time coming.

"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."

Smith, 46, is to be executed by lethal injection at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the death chamber at southern Ohio's state prison in Lucasville.

Bashline plans to watch through a pane of glass with Autumn's mother and grandmother.

Also watching the execution just a few feet away will be Smith's daughter, sister and niece, who have visited him daily in his last hours. They recently introduced Smith to his only grandchild, a 16-month-old girl named Alannah, whom he was allowed to hold and pose for photos with during the visit.

"I want to be able to look in his eyes and for him to look in my eyes, and we say our goodbyes," said Melissa Aguirre, Smith's 31-year-old niece.

Smith's daughter, 21-year-old Brittney Smith, was 7 years old when her father was arrested in Autumn's death.

"I pretty much say, `I know you didn't do it, Dad,"' Brittney Smith said. "I wish I could just call the governor up myself and tell him, `Don't do it. He's innocent."'

Smith's relatives said the only reason he admitted to the crime is that he's given up hope after being in prison so long. They point out that he doesn't actually remember hurting Autumn.

"There's no proof," Brittney Smith said.

Back on that awful night in September 1998, Autumn's mother, Kesha Frye, was awoken by Smith, her live-in boyfriend of four months. A nude and extremely drunk Smith laid a naked and lifeless Autumn on Frye's bed, according to court records.

Frye rushed the baby and her 2-year-old daughter to a neighbor's house and called 911. Autumn was pronounced dead after doctors tried to revive her for more than an hour. Smith was arrested.

The baby was covered in bruises, welts and cuts, and had severe injuries showing she had been brutally raped.

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 cans of beer and a T-shirt.

At the time, Smith denied wrongdoing. "I'm not sick like that," he told police.

At trial, Smith did not testify in his own defense on the advice of his attorneys, even as prosecutors repeatedly referred to him as a "baby raper" and showed graphic pictures of Autumn's battered body.

Expert witnesses for Smith testified that 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 seeking to have his death sentenced reduced to life in prison, Smith admitted to the crime but said he didn't mean to kill the baby.

In written arguments to the Ohio Parole Board, Smith's attorneys said he was too drunk to realize that his sexual assault was killing Autumn. And Ohio law stipulates that a death sentence requires intent to kill.

"The evidence suggests that Autumn's death was a horrible accident," they wrote. "No matter how shocking the facts, the rule of law matters when a man's life is on the line."

Prosecutors disagreed and said the extensive injuries on the baby's body proved intent, saying "this crime is nothing less than a horrific, senseless murder committed against a small, defenseless, 6-month-old baby."

Smith told the board that he wasn't in his right mind the night of the crime and has to live every day with what he did.

In a 10-0 vote, the board rejected Smith's request for mercy, as did Gov. John Kasich.

"Smith took the life of an innocent 6-month-old infant while using the baby to sexually gratify himself," the board said. "It is hard to fathom a crime more repulsive or reprehensible in character."

Brittney Smith said she can't reconcile the crime with the dad she knows, the same man who taught her and her half-sister to fish, who played card games with them and who would watch Disney's "The Lion King" over and over with them.

"He was a wonderful dad," Brittney Smith said, adding that her father never sexually abused her or her half-sister, who was unrelated to Smith.

Bashline, Autumn's aunt, said her family has no reason to doubt that Smith is guilty, especially with his recent admission.

She said it's not fair that he's had 15 years since the crime to live, visit family and say his goodbyes.

"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. I don't find it right."

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