LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- A man convicted of killing a 6-month-old as he raped her was executed Wednesday despite his arguments that he never meant to hurt her.
Steve Smith, 46, was executed by lethal injection for the September 1998 killing of his live-in girlfriend's daughter, Autumn Carter, in Mansfield in northern Ohio. He was pronounced dead at 10:29 a.m.
Smith had recently tried to get his sentence reduced to life in prison, arguing that he was too drunk to realize that his assault was killing Autumn and didn't mean to hurt the baby.
The Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich unanimously turned him down, with the board calling him "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."
Among the witnesses to the execution was Smith's 21-year-old daughter, Brittney, who said she has never believed he committed the crime.
"I know my dad's innocent," she said. "I do not believe he did this, and you know, he raised all my cousins, my sister before I was even born, and he never did anything (sexually)."
Brittney Smith, who was 7 when her father was arrested for Autumn's killing, 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 who would watch Disney's "The Lion King" over and over with them.
She called him "a wonderful dad" and said she recently introduced him 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 and other family also had planned to witness the execution and considered it justice.
Autumn's aunt, Kaylee Bashline, said that her family has no reason to doubt that Smith is guilty, especially with his recent admission, and that it's not fair that he had 15 years since the crime to live, visit family and say his goodbyes.
"He got all that, and what did she get?" Bashline said. "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."
Back on the night of September 29, 1998, Autumn's mother, Kesha Frye, was awoken by Smith, her live-in boyfriend of four months.
Smith, who was 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. Autumn was pronounced dead after doctors tried to revive her for more than an hour, and Smith was arrested.
The baby was covered in bruises and welts, had cuts on her forehead and had severe injuries showing she had been brutally raped, though no semen was present.
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 strewed 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 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 testified that he might 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 also told the 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 became 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 two other inmates before the supply expires. Eight more inmates are scheduled to die from November through mid-2015.