29 years ago, 4-year-old Derrick Robie was murdered by Eric Smith: What you should know

·5 min read

When a young child was brutally murdered in a small village in upstate New York in the summer of 1993 — and a teenage neighbor was later arrested for the crime — shock waves from the disturbing case extended far beyond the Southern Tier.

The killing of Derrick Robie and subsequent trial and conviction of Eric Smith made national headlines.

The emotional saga is being thrust into the national spotlight again with the airing of a CBS newsmagazine "48 Hours" episode examining Derrick's death and its impact on his family and the community, along with Smith's recent parole after nearly three decades behind bars.

Here are some of the facts and fallout of a difficult and gut-wrenching case.

Who was Derrick Robie?

Derrick was a 4-year-old child who lived in the Village of Savona in central Steuben County, just off state Route 17 (now Interstate 86). His parents are Dale and Doreen Robie, who still live in the area.

Derrick was "a wonderful child," according to his mother, the oldest of two children, and he often enjoyed taking part in recreation programs at a nearby park.

More: '48 Hours' episode will include interview with Derrick Robie's parents

Who was Eric Smith?

Eric Smith, now 42, was only 13 at the time of Derrick's death and also lived in Savona.

Smith grew up in an abusive home environment and was bullied by classmates for "my ears, my glasses, being short, my red hair, pretty much all of those," according to testimony he gave at his last hearing before the state Board of Parole.

Smith admitted much later to unresolved anger issues that stemmed from years of mistreatment.

When and where was Derrick killed?

Derrick was walking from his home to a nearby park in Savona on Aug. 2, 1993, where he was planning to take part in a recreation program.

Smith intercepted him along the way and lured him into a secluded area before beating, strangling and sexually abusing him.

Due to Savona's proximity to a major highway, there was initially rampant speculation Derrick had been killed by some faceless drifter passing through town.

A week after the discovery of Derrick's body triggered an intense manhunt for his killer, Smith admitted his involvement to family members.

Why did Smith kill Derrick?

Smith told the Parole Board he carried a lot of anger due to emotional and physical abuse he suffered at home and bullying he endured at school.

On the day Derrick was killed, Smith said he was already in a bad mood when he rode his bicycle to an outside recreation program in the Village of Savona, only to find it wasn't open yet.

Irritated even more than normal by that circumstance, Smith said he spotted Derrick walking and immediately decided to take his anger out on the younger boy.

More: 'I'm not the same person.' Eric Smith hearing transcript reveals regrets over child murder

Convicted murderer Eric Smith of Steuben County in state prison in 2004
Convicted murderer Eric Smith of Steuben County in state prison in 2004

What was Smith's fate?

Smith was tried as an adult and convicted of second-degree murder following a 1994 trial in Steuben County Court.

He was sentenced to nine years to life in prison and was housed in a juvenile facility until 2001, when he was transferred to state prison, primarily the Woodbourne Correctional Facility. He first became eligible for parole the following year.

Smith was denied parole 10 times before he was finally granted release following a hearing before the Board of Parole in October 2021.

Why did the Parole Board release Smith?

Smith expressed deep regret for killing Derrick, saying he "became the bully that I disliked in my life" and that Derrick didn't deserve his fate, according to a transcript of the October hearing.

The board also noted Smith had only been cited for three disciplinary problems during his confinement, the last occurring in 2005.

Smith also told the board he learned much during his years in prison, including how to control his anger and how to appreciate the value of human life.

More: Eric Smith, who was 13 when he killed a 4-year-old in 1993, gets parole

What happens to Smith now?

Smith was released from Woodbourne Correctional Facility in February, and planned to relocate to Queens County, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Smith told the Parole Board he is engaged to be married to a woman who initially contacted him while she was studying to be a lawyer and was doing research on the juvenile justice system.

He also said he has certificates in both carpentry fabrication and electrical installation and will probably look for work in one of those fields.

Under the conditions of his parole, Smith can't leave New York state without permission, must have regular contact with his parole officer, and can't associate with others who are known to be engaged in illegal activity, among other restrictions.

More: Convicted child killer Eric Smith released from prison, will live in Queens

How did the case affect Derrick's family?

Doreen and Dale Robie, parents of murder victim Derrick Robie, discuss his case and the recent parole of his killer, Eric Smith, during a segment of the CBS news magazine, 48 Hours.
Doreen and Dale Robie, parents of murder victim Derrick Robie, discuss his case and the recent parole of his killer, Eric Smith, during a segment of the CBS news magazine, 48 Hours.

Dale and Doreen Robie opposed Smith's release every time he became eligible for parole.

They also pushed for state legislation that would require violent felony offenders to wait five years, instead of the current two years, between parole hearings, so they and other victims of violent crimes wouldn't have to relive painful memories so frequently.

The Robies initially shied away from public comment about the case after Smith was finally granted release.

They decided to take part in the "48 Hours" segment so they could talk about Derrick, as well as some positive things that came out of the tragedy — such as a new ballfield in Savona.

"When tragedy strikes, you can make it through with the help of others and to try and focus on what is still good in your life," Dale Robie said.

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Child killer Eric Smith and victim Derrick Robie: What to know