The Ohio parole board is faced with a gruesome case: a man who sexually assaulted his girlfriend’s 6-month-old daughter so brutally that she died claims he didn’t intend to kill her but was too drunk to realize she was dying. Steven Smith, was sentenced to death after being convicted of aggravated murder. Under Ohio law, however, the death penalty requires a proven intent to kill. Because Smith was never charged with sexual assault, the jury convicted him of murder.
Smith’s attorneys say his death sentence should be commuted because, although the case is shocking, he did not intend to kill the child. Smith, the AP reports, acknowledges that he intentionally assaulted the girl, named Autum Carter.
Prosecutors say Smith is using alcohol as an excuse and that he intended to commit more than sexual assault. ”The horrific attack upon Autumn Carter showed much more than Smith’s stated purpose,” said prosecutor James Mayer. Mayer told the parole board that Autum’s injuries were consistent with homicide.
The assault on Autumn took place in 1998. Smith had been dating the girl’s mother, Kaysha Frye, for about six months. When she refused to have sex with Smith that night, the heavily intoxicated man took his frustration out on Autumn in an assault that lasted up to 30 minutes, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors argue Smith beat Autumn to death, while the defense claims he accidentally suffocated her by laying on top of her.
Smith is scheduled to be executed May 1. Although his crime, regardless of intent, is heinous, Ohio law professor and death penalty expert Doug Berman says Smith’s attorneys must bring up any evidence that Smith did not intentionally kill Autumn: ”…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.”
In 2002, a court upheld Smith’s death penalty. The court’s reasoning, and more details from this case, can be seen below.