A 36-year-old man was executed early Friday for the beating death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter 12 years ago.

Samuel Flippen did not make a final statement. He locked eyes with his parents through the glass of the death chamber, smiled and mouthed "I love you."

Flippen died by injection at 2:11 a.m., state Corrections Department spokesman Keith Acree said.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1994 beating death of Britnie Nichole Hutton, who prosecutors said had extensive bruising and died after Flippen hit her in the abdomen. Flippen said she fell from a chair.

Gov. Mike Easley denied a clemency request, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments to stop the execution.

Outside Central Prison, Flippen's family and friends stood on one side of the street while Hutton's relatives stood on the other. The two groups did not exchange words.

"We came tonight to make sure that everyone knows Britnie is the victim here. Sammy chose to do what he did," said Ben Streett, the girl's uncle. "He took from our family a precious, precious child."

Flippen's family and friends were among a group of about 60 people who took turns at a microphone, leading the crowd in prayer or song.

"We're just trying to be here for our family members who aren't doing as well as others, just letting them know it's in God's hands now," Robin Dunlap, 39, a cousin, said before the legal appeals ended.

Four death penalty opponents were arrested for crossing a police line onto prison property.