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

Four-year-old Derrick Robie didn't deserve to be beaten and brutalized 28 years ago, Eric Smith told a parole board last month, and said he felt deep remorse for the murder and hoped Derrick's parents could one day forgive him.

A number of revelations were included in a transcript of Smith's Oct. 6 hearing before the state Board of Parole.

Smith revealed he's engaged to be married, and that he has been working toward a degree in crusade evangelism and plans further education in the future.

He told the board he plans to live with family until he can find living arrangements with his fiancee.

Notably, at least one member of the parole board signaled during the hearing a seemingly new openness to considering release, saying "maybe this would be an opportunity to take (the process) to the next level."

Following that hearing — the 11th since Smith became eligible for parole — the board approved his release from state prison, although the actual release date, originally scheduled for this week, has been postponed until a proper residence can be approved by prison officials.

The hearing transcript was released this week in response to a Freedom of Information Law request by the USA TODAY Network.

"As to why, after years of reflection, looking back at who I was then and what was going on, I essentially became the bully that I disliked in my life," Smith told the parole board. "I was constantly targeted for being weaker, smaller, and I became the bully toward (Derrick) and he didn't deserve it."

'Why did you do this, Mr. Smith?'

Smith, 41, was 13 when he lured Derrick into a secluded area in the Steuben County Village of Savona, where they both lived, on Aug. 2, 1993, before beating, strangling and sexually abusing him.

A week after Derrick's body was found, triggering an intense manhunt for his killer, Smith admitted his involvement to family members.

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When asked by a parole board member at the October hearing why he committed the brutal act, Smith said it was the culmination of years of emotional abuse by his father and merciless bullying by schoolmates.

"My dad, he was emotionally and psychologically abusive so I was walking on eggshells any time I was around him. (He) verbally put everyone down, whether it was me, my sister, my mom, and he would just make us feel really low," Smith said.

"And why were you bullied?" a board member asked.

"My ears, my glasses, being short, my red hair, pretty much all of those, if not one an accumulative of all of them," Smith replied.

Read the full parole hearing transcript here (story continues below):

On the day Derrick was killed, Smith said he rode his bicycle to an outside recreation program in the Village of Savona but it wasn't open yet.

Already in a bad frame of mind, Smith said he was even more irritated at that moment and when he was riding away from the pavilion, that's when he spotted Derrick walking.

"When I had seen him the first thought I had was I want to hurt him ... to take my anger out on him," Smith told the board.

Smith went on to describe the attack on Derrick in graphic detail and said the thought that kept going through his mind was a fear that the boy would tell on him.

"I was scared that he was gonna get up and tell somebody that I had hurt him," Smith said. "And when I checked I could still feel that his heart was beating and it scared me because I thought he was going to tell."

Eric Smith said prison changed him

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. He first became eligible for parole in 2002.

Smith told the parole board at his recent hearing he has participated in numerous programs and counseling during his years behind bars.

He also took part in a correspondence course at a Florida college and is working toward an associate's degree in crusade evangelism.

Smith also told the board he plans to continue to pursue his education and earn both bachelor's and master's degrees.

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

Board members asked Smith what revelations he has gained during his years of incarceration.

Smith said he never learned the value of life when he was growing up, and he later realized he did more than to stop Derrick's heart from beating on Aug. 2, 1993.

"The insight I've gained while incarcerated for taking Derrick is that Derrick himself could have been a doctor who may have invented a new technique to make heart surgery more effective in individual lives," Smith said.

"He could have been a lawyer, he could have been a teacher causing more students to be better men and women as they get older," he said. "All the different things that he could have done professionally in those areas I took from him because of my own selfishness and wanting to lash out instead of speaking to someone who could have given me insight."

Commissioners asked him what he would say if he had the opportunity to speak to Derrick's parents, Dale and Doreen Robie.

"I would try to convey to them that I understand the reasons why I ended up hurting their son and essentially killing him in hopes that they individually or as a family could understand," he said.

"I'm not the same person, and while that in itself doesn't take away their anguish and pain, I would hope to convey to them that while I am remorseful I realize the depths to some extent," Smith said. "Because I can't really fully understand the depth of how Derrick's mom feels. I can never fully understand the depth of how Derrick's father feels."

Smith also expressed hope that at some point, the Robies might be able to forgive him, "even though I don't deserve that."

What's next for Eric Smith

Dale and Doreen Robie opposed Smith's release every time he came up for parole and also used their son's murder to push for stricter limits on parole hearings — including requiring felony offenders to wait five years, rather than the current two, between hearings.

When the parole board decided to grant Smith's release, Dale Robie said the family had no comment.

The board tentatively set Nov. 17 for Smith's release from custody at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Sullivan County, but that didn't take place, according to prison officials.

Smith does not yet have an approved residence, according to a statement from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which said he was still incarcerated Thursday.

The department will continue to work with Smith on identifying an approvable residence, the statement said.

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

Smith told the parole board he would probably live with his mother until he could get his own place, and he also informed the 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.

Board members hinted at the hearing they were looking more favorably on Smith's request this time.

"I've read the prior transcripts. You have come a long way in talking about this offense, and your growth and the work you have done, and I thought maybe this would be an opportunity to take it to the next level," Commissioner Elsie Segarra told Smith.

Smith also assured the board that regardless of his past anger issues and volatility, he is no longer a danger to society.

"What I lacked at 13 in terms of expressing myself and being consistent in expressing myself, I've gained, and I'm not a threat," he said.

"The 13-year-old kid that took Derrick's life, and had so many things going on internally with him at the time, is not the man sitting in front of you talking," Smith told the board. "I still have some skills to learn through communication but I have come a long way and I'm still gonna grow and still gonna learn, but I assure you that if you were to give me the chance I would not only prove that I'm not a threat, I would definitely be an asset to society."

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Eric Smith parole hearing transcript reveals regrets over child murder