Eric Smith, 13 when he murdered a child, back in the headlines

·7 min read

Eric Smith, who spent 28 years behind bars for the 1993 murder of 4-year-old Derrick Robie, was released from prison in February. "48 Hours" takes a look back at the notorious case:

Morning of August 2, 1993: A final kiss goodbye

Derrick Robie was 4 when he was murdered near his home in Savona, New York. / Credit: Robie family
Derrick Robie was 4 when he was murdered near his home in Savona, New York. / Credit: Robie family

"It's OK, Mom. I'll go by myself," is what Doreen Robie said her 4-year-old son, Derrick, told her on the morning of August 2, 1993. Robie always watched Derrick make the short trip to a recreation program at a park near the family's home in Savona, New York. But that morning, she had her hands full with Derrick's crying baby brother and allowed Derrick to walk alone without her supervision. "He gave me a kiss and I said, 'I love you.' He says, 'I love you, Mom,'" Robie recalled.

August 2, 1993: A mother's intuition leads to a grim discovery

Searchers found Derrick' Robie's body in a small patch of woods, just a few yards from the park where he was headed and a few hundred yards from his own front door.  He had been choked and beaten to death with rocks.   / Credit: Steuben County District Attorney's Office
Searchers found Derrick' Robie's body in a small patch of woods, just a few yards from the park where he was headed and a few hundred yards from his own front door. He had been choked and beaten to death with rocks. / Credit: Steuben County District Attorney's Office

Soon after Derrick Robie left home, storm clouds moved in, and it began to rain. "I had an awful feeling," Doreen Robie remembered before racing to pick up Derrick at the park. She was told that he never showed up. Nearly five hours later, searchers found Derrick's body in a small patch of woods near the same park. Evidence later showed that Derrick was lured to the woods before being strangled and battered with rocks. A banana from Derrick's lunch bag was found smashed near his body and his Kool-Aid was poured into his wounds.

The immediate assumption was that Derrick's killer was an adult from out of town. While worried parents in Savona kept their children inside, police began searching for possible suspects and information that could lead to an arrest.

Days after the murder: A local boy is interviewed by police

Eric Smith / Credit: Family home video
Eric Smith / Credit: Family home video

As the investigation continued, a local 13-year-old boy named Eric Smith was interviewed by police. Smith told investigators he was riding his bike when he saw Derrick across the street from him. This encounter was near the patch of woods where his body was found and around the time of Derrick's murder. Smith would go on to accurately describe Derrick's T-shirt and lunch bag. One investigator believed Smith could have witnessed something related to the murder.

August 6, 1993: A reenactment pokes holes in Eric Smith's story

Police video tape of Eric Smith's reenactment  / Credit: Evidence
Police video tape of Eric Smith's reenactment / Credit: Evidence

Investigators met Eric Smith at the location where he had told them he saw Derrick Robie. They videotaped him as he rode his bike and reenacted that moment. They quickly realized Smith could not have seen all that he described to them from the distance he claimed to be. Investigators and Smith's family believed he knew more than he was telling them.

August 8, 1993: Eric Smith confesses to the Derrick Robie's murder

"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry. I killed that little boy." Those are the words Eric Smith's grandfather remembered his grandson saying after the family begged him to tell them what he saw on the day of Derrick Robie's murder. Smith later confessed to law enforcement and provided details on how he killed the 4-year-old.

August 9, 1993: Teen's arrest for murder becomes a national media sensation

Eric Smith is escorted by police outside court in 1993 / Credit: WROC-TV
Eric Smith is escorted by police outside court in 1993 / Credit: WROC-TV

Authorities announced Eric Smith had been arrested for the murder of Derrick Robie. His arrest would become a national media sensation as people became perplexed by how such a young and innocent-looking boy could commit such a heinous crime.

September 2, 1993: A grand jury indicts Eric Smith

A grand jury indicted 13-year-old Eric Smith on a second-degree murder charge. Smith would be tried as an adult.

September 10, 1993: A not guilty plea

Eric Smith after his plea hearing on September 10, 1993. / Credit: CBS News
Eric Smith after his plea hearing on September 10, 1993. / Credit: CBS News

Eric Smith pleads not guilty to the second-degree murder charge.

August 1994: Eric Smith on trial

Eric Smith during his trial in August 1994.  / Credit: CBS News
Eric Smith during his trial in August 1994. / Credit: CBS News

A year after he murdered Derrick Robie, Eric Smith faced a jury under the glare of national news cameras. Smith's defense attorney argued that Smith "suffers from a mental disease that can be characterized as a rage disorder" and could not be held criminally responsible for the murder. During the trial, testimonies revealed Smith had speech problems and a history of throwing temper tantrums as a toddler. The jury also learned Smith was relentlessly bullied and held back in school.

The prosecutor pushed back against the insanity defense, arguing that Smith knew what he was doing was wrong and should be held fully responsible for his actions under the law.

August 16, 1994: The jury reaches a verdict

Eric Smith listens as the jury reads his verdict on August 16, 1994.  / Credit: CBS News
Eric Smith listens as the jury reads his verdict on August 16, 1994. / Credit: CBS News

After hours of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict late at night. They found Eric Smith guilty of second-degree murder for the slaying of Derrick Robie. They also accepted the prosecutor's argument that Smith was not suffering from any extreme mental disorder that controlled his actions at the time of the murder.

November 7, 1993: Eric Smith sentenced

A judge gave Eric Smith the maximum sentence of nine years to life. He would serve his time in a juvenile detention facility until he turned 21, when he would be transferred to an adult prison.

June 11, 2002: Eric Smith has his first parole hearing

Eric Smith's first chance of parole was denied. The parole board noted the 22-year-old appeared to have "little remorse" for murdering Derrick Robie. Every two years, Smith would again be eligible for parole.

June 8, 2004: Parole denied for the second time

In 2004, Eric Smith, 24, read a statement for
In 2004, Eric Smith, 24, read a statement for

The 24-year-old Eric Smith would be denied parole for the second time. That same year, Smith would read a statement in front of "48 Hours"' cameras while in prison. During his statement, Smith apologized and recognized that his "actions caused a terrible loss in the Robie family." He also talked about his experiences being bullied as child, which caused him to "shut down his feelings." He believed this verbal abuse caused him to take his "emotional anger and rage out on someone who had done nothing to bring on such violence."

December 2009: Eric Smith speaks out

Eric Smith during his interview with WENY-TV in December 2009.  / Credit: WENY-TV
Eric Smith during his interview with WENY-TV in December 2009. / Credit: WENY-TV

Prior to his 2010 parole hearing, Eric Smith was interviewed by CBS News affiliate, WENY-TV. Smith, almost 30 years old at the time, said his anger at the time of the murder "wasn't directed towards Derrick at all," but rather it was directed at the type of boys who used to tease him. Throughout the interview, Smith consistently expressed remorse for his actions. "…if I could switch places with him and take the grave for him to live, I'd do it in second," he said. Once again, the parole board would turn him down.

October 5, 2021: Eric Smith's eleventh parole board hearing

Eric Smith appears in front of the parole board for the eleventh time. In the transcript of the parole hearing, Smith tells the parole board he wants to obtain a college education and plans on working in electrical installation or carpentry. He also told the parole board he was engaged. He said his fiancée was studying to be a lawyer and wrote him asking about the juvenile justice system. He says over time, they fell in love with each other.

October 7, 2021: Parole granted

Eric Smith is granted parole. The parole board based their decision on multiple factors, citing Smith's clean disciplinary record, strong release plan, and low scores on his risk assessment.

November 17, 2021: A march and vigil held for Derrick Robie

A statue of Derrick Robie, sculpted by Doreen Robie's uncle and funded by people from all over the country, stands on a hill overlooking a ball field built in his memory. A plaque on the statue reads:
A statue of Derrick Robie, sculpted by Doreen Robie's uncle and funded by people from all over the country, stands on a hill overlooking a ball field built in his memory. A plaque on the statue reads:

Weeks after the parole board's decision, a march and candlelight vigil was held in Savona for Derrick Robie. The community members peacefully protested Eric Smith's release, while also making sure memories of Derrick and his brutal murder would not be forgotten. Many feared Smith would move back to Savona to live with his mother.

February 1, 2022 - Eric Smith is released from prison

Released from prison in February 2022, Eric Smith will remain on parole the rest of his life. / Credit: NYSDOCCS
Released from prison in February 2022, Eric Smith will remain on parole the rest of his life. / Credit: NYSDOCCS

After being locked up for 28 years, Eric Smith was released from prison. His release was delayed for months until approved housing was found for him in Queens, New York. Smith will remain on parole for the rest of his life.

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