Watching another inmate die


It doesn’t get much more heinous than what Steve Smith did to Autumn Breeze Carter late one night in September 1998.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would brutally rape and kill a six-month-old baby girl, let alone attempt to mitigate the resulting death penalty by claiming the primary motivation was sexual assault, not murder.

I watched him die Tuesday morning at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, the ninth such inmate I’ve witnessed succumb to lethal injection in the past seven years.

He spent his final evening visiting with family, eating made-to-order pizza and chocolate ice cream and listening to a baseball game on the radio.

The next day, he went to sleep and breathed his last in relative comfort, “relative” being the keyword, since, I assume, the act of dying is far from comfortable.

The whole process was carried out like clockwork with no glitches or complications and completed in less than 30 minutes.

He walked into the death chamber on his own and was strapped to a table. Prison staff quickly found suitable veins and inserted shunts to carry his lethal injection. It took 14 minutes from the start of the barbiturate flow until the official time of death was pronounced.

His legal counsel, in a released statement after witnessing the execution, said Smith “felt great remorse” for the crime, though he didn’t show much during his final moments.

Smith offered no final comments.

Death chamber

He didn’t look the mother or aunt of the murder victim in the eye while strapped to the table in the prison’s death chamber.

Members of his family, one of whom required the use of a wheelchair to exit the Death House afterward, still don’t think he committed the crime.

Contrast Smith’s death with what he did — raping a baby for 10-30 minutes with such force that it left fabric marks on her skin.

“It’s just unfortunate that he gets to die peacefully after the torture he put Autumn through,” the victim’s grandfather told reporters afterward.

Smith’s daughter and niece witnessed his execution and cried throughout the process, sobbing loudly as the time of death was announced.

The victim’s family was justifiably content, the baby girl’s aunt pumping her fists in the air when it was over and wishing Smith ill during an eternity in hell.

“It won’t bring her back, but it does bring justice,” one witness said afterward.

Autumn’s grandfather added, “It’s shame it takes 15 years to do something that should have been done in six months. Really, the state of Ohio don’t have nothing on the books to fit the crime he committed. I believe he should have been turned over to the family.”

Smith’s legal counsel offered this counter viewpoint: “While some may trumpet his execution as appropriate revenge for his crime, Ohio is no safer having executed Steven Smith than had he lived the remainder of his natural life in prison.”

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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