Caution: This case involves a detailed crime against a very young child and non graphic crime scene photos. If you’re sensitive to this, you may wish to skip this one.
It would be really easy to feel empathy for Eric Smith if he hadn’t done something so utterly incomprehensible. The boy was a bully’s wet dream. He had birth defects from an anti-seizure medication which his mother had been prescribed while pregnant which caused his low set ears to stick out, and he suffered from developmental delays such as problems with speech. Pair that with his large coke bottle glasses, freckles, and bright red hair – well, you know, kids are cruel. Of course he was bullied, that has never been a question. But does bullying excuse what he did to another child?
In 1993 Eric was 13 years old. He’d already been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, meaning he could fly off the handle and become violent at the drop of a hat. This summer Eric had been attending a rec program in his town of Savona, New York; it just so happened that a 4 year old boy by the name of Derrick Robie had also been attending that same program.
Though Derrick’s mama always walked with him to the rec center, on August 2nd of 1993 she was super busy; Derrick prided himself on being a big boy, and begged to walk all by himself. The community center was only a block away, and there were no major roads to cross; Derrick’s mama never dreamed that anything bad could happen. Keep in mind that things were different back then; most of us modern parents wouldn’t dream of allowing our children to go anywhere by themselves today (my 10 year old doesn’t walk to or from the bus stop nor even play in our yard without me!) but many parents back then just didn’t think anything of it. So Mama packed little Derrick a lunch of bananas and cherry red Kool-Aid, walked out to the driveway, kissed her baby goodbye and she watched as he walked away. Derrick had only made it 100 yards when he met his killer.
Eric had been riding his bike to the program when he spotted Derrick walking alone. The older boy lured the younger child off the road and into the wooded area on the side of the road, and what transpired there is unthinkable. Derrick was first manually strangled, and beaten to death with a large and a small rock. The contents of Derrick’s lunch were smeared into the victim’s open wounds, then Eric sodomized the small child with a stick. And when he was done with his victim, Eric removed the boy’s shoes and posed his little body.
Around 11 a.m. it was realized that Derrick was missing, and police went searching for him; a few hours later the child’s mutilated corpse was discovered. Of course investigators never dreamed that they should be searching for a child, everyone believed they were looking for a grown man – the killer must’ve been an experienced pedophile! And really, Eric easily could’ve gotten away with it all had he not brought attention to himself.
Just four days after the murder Eric walked himself right into the police station and asked if he could help with Derrick’s case. At first investigators assumed they were speaking to a caring, helpful kid, and then they believed him to be a witness. Eric soon admitted to having seen the victim while riding his bike to the recreational center; police had the boy reenact what he’d claimed to have happened that day, with the Eric riding his bike to the center. Police quickly noticed a couple of things: Eric had very much enjoyed the reenactment, and there was no way that he could have known so many of the details which he had so easily recalled just by simply riding by. A couple of days later the teenager did confess to murder.
Eric’s reasons for having committed murder were not that he was abused at home; though his sister has stated that she absolutely believe that their step father had been sexually abusive towards the boy, Eric denies any abuse of that nature. Instead he said that Derrick lost his life because he’d wanted to be the one who hurt someone for a change – to be the bully instead of the bullied.
Eric was tried as an adult and sentenced to 9 years to life, which was the max sentence at the time; today he is still in prison, and begging to be released. Eric is very intelligent, he’s well educated, claims to be remorseful, and says he wants out so he can help other troubled children. Many professionals involved in the case believe that Eric was a “budding serial killer” and that if given the opportunity, he would kill again. But Eric truly enjoyed killing Derrick, he enjoyed everything about it; given the brutality of the crime, and the fact that he even went so far as to sexually assault and pose the body, maybe the world is safer if he stays incarcerated indefinitely.
Today the scene of the crime has been razed and a baseball field stands in it’s place; this was done in rememberable of Derrick as the child had absolutely loved baseball. Derrick’s mother has faced harsh criticism for permitting her son to walk alone that day, which is terrible. You know she beats herself up over that decision more than any of us ever could imagine. Why would anyone want to add to this mother’s anguish?
Update: 27 years after the murder and having been denied parole at least 10 times, the now 41 year old killer is getting a second chance. On October fifth he was granted parole, and is set to be released from Woodbourne Correctional Facility as early as November 17th of 2021. It is reported that his victim’s parents, Dale and Doreen Robie, who have fought to keep the killer in prison every couple of years when another parole hearing came around, are upset that he will be released – and who could blame them? Personally I almost always cheer for young killers to be receive a second chance because it is a fact that they can be rehabilitated (look at Mary Bell). That said, Eric is one of just a handful of young offenders which worries me (others being James Bulgers young killers, the then ten year old boys named Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. I’m sure you already know how that turned out; if not, let me know. I could write about it, but the case upsets me.). Their crimes against younger children were just so horrific… I guess the very best we can hope for is that he has received the help he needed and that he’s truly rehabilitated – or at least that prison was awful enough to deter him from doing anything which would send him back there. Now please tell me, what do you think? Should he have been given a second chance? Do you think he will reoffend?