Ohio Man Who Raped Baby To Death Seeks Clemency

An Ohio man who raped a six-month-old baby girl, killing her inadvertently during the horrifying sexual assault, is hoping for clemency in a hearing before his scheduled execution in May.

Death row inmate Steven Smith, 48, admits that he intended to sexually assault infant Autumn Carter in 1998, he did not set out to kill the Mansfield, Ohio baby during the course of the attack. However, the injuries Carter sustained in part because Smith was too intoxicated to notice the rape was killing the little girl were grave, and she did not survive.

Now lawyers for Smith argue that while the fatal sexual assault upon Carter was intentional, her death was not — and Ohio’s death penalty law is clear in intent to kill being a necessary precipitate. It was speculated that Smith raped the baby as revenge against her mother, Kaysha Frye, whom he’d been dating for six months and after she allegedly rebuffed his advances.

Today, Steven Smith’s lawyers presented a final objection to the inmate’s scheduled execution, arguing that while the crime is admittedly horrific, it was not a capital offense. Lawyers Joseph Wilhelm and Tyson Fleming wrote to the Ohio Parole Board:

“The evidence suggests that Autumn’s death was a horrible accident … 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.”

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Smith was never officially charged with rape, complicating the case’s outcome. Doug Berman is an Ohio State University professor of law and expert on the death penalty, and he says that Smith’s lawyers have an obligation to make the case that the death of Carter was not intentional in the course of the baby’s rape:

“But if the lawyers for this defendant can legitimately assert that the evidence doesn’t show or support that this was an intentional killing, not only is it appropriate to bring this up at clemency, I think they’re obliged, representing their client appropriately, to stress this point.”

Steven Smith is scheduled to be put to death on May 1.