Why Did Eric Kill?

<B>Dan Rather</B> Talks To Teen Killer About Why He Killed A 4-Year-Old Boy

At 24, Eric Smith has long red hair and thick glasses. His prison uniform seems one size too big. And the image he presents doesn't match his crime. It never did.

At 13, Smith was at the center of a media storm. His redheaded looks, and his age, were so completely at odds with his horrific crime that he almost got away with murder.

"That's one of the things that has frightened me most in this situation," says prosecutor John Tunney, "because I don't doubt for a second, never have doubted, that had he not been caught, Eric Smith would have killed again. And that's terrifying."

And Tunney says a decade behind bars hasn't changed that: "My fear of Eric Smith is not diminished."

In 1994, Smith was convicted of choking and battering the life out of 4-year-old Derrick Robie. A jury unanimously found Smith guilty of murder in the second degree.

Smith's parents, Ted and Tammy, were devastated by the verdict. They were convinced that their child was sick. He would be sentenced to the maximum sentence, nine years to life in prison.

Dale and Doreen Robie, the murdered boy's parents, cried with relief. But they didn't know that they were being sentenced, too.

"The hardest thing for me is when somebody asks me, 'How many children do you have?'" says Doreen Robie. "Most of the time I simply say, 'I have one boy, here at home. And I have one boy waiting in heaven for me.'"

Dalton Robie, 12, has grown up in the shadow of his brother's death. "All I really know is that I had a brother," he says. "Sometimes, I just think about him and just start to cry."

This past June, Smith was up for parole, and the Robie family struggled to keep their fear in check. The hearing was held at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., a maximum security prison.

"Some people have said we need to forgive, but I can't yet," says Dale Robie, who is condemned to an agonizing wait, since the parole hearing is closed to the public.

The summer Derrick was murdered, in 1993, he was coming up fast on his fifth birthday. That's the first time Correspondent Dan Rather met the Robies.

Derrick was all boy -- all the time. He was also the unofficial mayor of Savona, a tiny village in western New York, with a population of 970.

"He sat on the corner on his bike and waved to cars that went by," recalls his mother, Doreen. "Everybody remembers him doing that."

Smith grew up just across town, and liked to spend time with his grandparents, Red and Edie Wilson. "He'd always come in and give us hugs and kisses," recalls Red Wilson. "He liked being a clown."

"He definitely wanted to be paid attention to," adds Edie Wilson.

But Smith's bright red hair and freckles made him a target at school for years. And as a teenager, he was seen pedaling around town for hours on end -- alone.

During the summer of '93, Smith attended a recreation program held a block from the Robie home. Derrick also attended the program.

On Aug. 2, Derrick was ready to head out to the program, but his mother wasn't ready to take him. "Normally, I would walk him to the end of the driveway, but Dalton that morning was very fussy," recalls Doreen Robie. "Derrick says, 'It's OK, mom. I'll go by myself.' … He gave me a kiss and I said, 'I love you,' and he says, 'I love you, Mom,' and he went hopping off the sidewalk."

He had only a block to go, and no streets to cross. The park was on a dead-end street. "It was the first time I've ever let him go anywhere alone," says Doreen Robie.

A short time later, as storm clouds moved in, Doreen says she felt something close to panic: "I swear that was the moment he died. I think he was letting us know."

"Derrick was very close to us," adds his father, Dale. "If there was any way he could have told us he was leaving, he would have tried."

What Doreen felt, but didn't yet know, was that five minutes after she kissed Derrick goodbye, he was dead. The most disturbing details of the crime, however, were never made public. But now, a decade later, with the fear that their son's killer could be set free, the Robie family wants the whole story to be told.

"People need to know what this kid did," says Doreen Robie.
  • Rebecca Leung

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