By Marc Kovac
Autumn Breeze Carter would have been a high school student, probably just learning to drive, likely enjoying her teenage years.
Instead, the 6-month-old was raped and murdered at the hands of a drunken Steven Smith late one night in September 1998 in a crime so brutal it left fabric marks on her lifeless body.
“He has shattered the lives of our family,” Pat Hicks, Autumn’s grand-father, told reporters. “He took a daughter from a mother, a granddaughter from a grandmother and grandpa. Because of him, Autumn never had a chance to take her first step. She never had a first birthday or her first day at school.”
He added, “There is no excuse that could ever justify what this man did and the heartache he has caused. It’s just unfortunate that he gets to die a peaceful death after the torture he put Autumn through.”
Smith paid the ultimate penalty for the crime Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, succumbing to a lethal injection while strapped to a table in the prison death house, his eyes mostly fixed on the ceiling until he shut them for the last time.
He offered no final apologies and made quick eye contact with his daughter and niece but refused to look toward the mother of the baby Mansfield girl, sitting a few feet away behind glass in the death chamber witness room.
Asked by the warden whether he had any final words, Smith quietly said, “No.” About 15 minutes later, he was pronounced dead, a hearse outside waiting to take his body away.
“I’m glad he’s dead; I hope he burns in hell,” Kesha Frye, mother of the murder victim, said afterward.
Smith was the 51st inmate put to death since Ohio restarted lethal injections in 1999.
There are 140 people on Ohio’s death row, with about a dozen executions scheduled through May 2015. Billy Slagle is next, with a lethal injection set for Aug. 7 for the 1987 murder of a Cleveland woman.
Smith was convicted in the September 1998 murder of Autumn Carter after an evening of beer drinking. According to documents, Smith raped the 6-month-old for 10 to 30 minutes, turning the volume of the television up loud enough to drown out the baby’s cries. He suffocated her in the process, then placed the body in bed with her mother.
Public defenders argued that Smith was too drunk to understand the consequences of his actions and that he did not intend to murder Autumn and should not have been given the death penalty.
But prosecutors countered that Smith was coherent the night of the murder and tried to hide evidence in the case, dumping a diaper, beer cans and a shirt in an outdoor trash container.
The state parole board sided with prosecutors, and Gov. John Kasich denied clemency in the case.
Smith was “calm and cooperative” throughout the day and evening before his execution, said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
He arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on Tuesday just before 11 a.m. Among the possessions he was allowed to keep in his death house holding cell were bags of potato chips, root beer, grape juice, a chessboard, a photo album and ear plugs.
Smith spent the day and night writing letters, talking on the telephone and listening to music on a classic rock radio station and a Cincinnati Reds baseball game.
He visited with his daughter, niece and legal counsel Tuesday evening, then ate a special meal of pepperoni, ham and sausage pizza, fried fish, chocolate ice cream and Mountain Dew.