In the early hours of Sept. 29, 1998, Steven Smith brutally beat and raped a 6-month-old girl while drunk and allegedly angry with the girl’s mother. Smith is scheduled for execution next month but made a plea on Tuesday arguing that he intended to rape the baby but did not intend to kill her and was too drunk to realize when he did.
Despite the horrid nature of the crime, the unusual plea for mercy may get Smith off death row due to the Ohio law that requires the prosecution to prove there was intent to kill a victim if a criminal is to be sentenced to death. This was not the case with Smith, which is what his attorneys planned to tell the Ohio Parole Board on Tuesday.
"The evidence suggests that Autumn's death was a horrible accident," his attorneys, Joseph Wilhelm and Tyson Fleming, said in a written argument. "Despite the shocking nature of this crime, Steve's death sentence should be commuted because genuine doubts exist whether he even committed a capital offense."
Smith, 46, sexually assaulted 6-month-old Autumn Carter while he was drunk during the morning hours of Sept. 29, 1998. In what may have been an oversight, Smith was never charged with sexual assault and so the jury could only convict or acquit him of aggravated murder.
Despite the claims of drunkenness, prosecutor James Mayer argued to the board that the girl’s injuries showed she suffered from both sexual and physical assault, which contradicts Smith’s claim that he didn’t mean to seriously harm the child.
“The horrific attack upon Autumn Carter showed much more than Smith's stated purpose," Mayer said. According to Mayer, he was unsure why Smith wasn’t charged with rape, only that it wasn’t a part of the trial strategy.
According to records, Autumn’s mother, Kaysha Frye was woken up by a naked Smith, her boyfriend at the time, around 3 a.m., who placed a lifeless Autumn next to her in bed. Smith allegedly didn’t realize she wasn’t breathing. Frye yelled at him, saying he had killed her, and ran to get help.
Apparently, Smith had attempted to have sex with Frye, and drunk and frustrated, attacked and beat her daughter instead. The attack lasted as long as 30 minutes, the prosecutors claim. Smith, known to consume up to 12 beers a day, was found to have a blood-alcohol content level of .123 — and that was eight hours after the attack.
Doug Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and death penalty expert, claims that though Smith does legally have a valid argument, it is highly likely his plea will not succeed due to the “moral repugnancy” of his crime.