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Child killer Eric Smith's release from prison a "huge gamble" says prosecutor

Eric Smith: Gambling on a Killer
Eric Smith: Gambling on a Killer 41:40

For almost three decades, Doreen and Dale Robie have lived with the anguish of that day in 1993 when they learned their adored little boy had been lured into the woods, strangled, and beaten with rocks.  If that wasn't horrific enough, his killer was a red-headed, freckle-faced child.

"48 Hours" has been covering the case since Eric Smith, 13, was charged with killing 4-year-old Derrick Robie. Smith was tried as an adult and convicted of second-degree murder.

Smith's sentence was nine years to life. But it would also be a life sentence for the Robies once Smith became eligible for parole in 2002.  "They could decide that well, now he's done his time and we're going to let him go," Doreen Robie told "48 Hours" contributor Jim Axelrod.

The news the Robies had been dreading came after Eric Smith's 11th appearance before the board — when he was finally granted parole.  Smith told WENY-TV in 2009 he had big plans for his future. "I want to get married and raise a family," Smith said. "Pursue the American dream."

John Tunney, who prosecuted Smith's case, says it's too early to know if that will happen.

"At the end of the day, it's still a little bit of a gamble," Axelrod noted.

"Oh, no, no. It's a huge gamble," Tunney replied. "This parole decision is a high-risk enterprise, to be sure."

AN UNTHINKABLE CRIME

After being locked up for 28 years, Eric Smith – who murdered a child as a teen– is free. He's out on parole in Queens, New York.  Smith insists he's a changed man deserving of freedom; that he has a plan for a fresh start, even a fiancée.  But others worry that Eric Smith is still a flat-out threat.  

Dale and Doreen Robie feared this day would come. Our story begins with them.

Dan Rather covered the case for" 48 Hours" when it first broke.

FROM 48 HOURS"' "WHY DID ERIC KILL" - 1994

In the summer of 1993, Derrick Robie and his family lived just down the street from this park in the small town of Savona, New York.

Dale Robie coached T-ball. It was his son Derrick's favorite game.

Doreen Robie: He'd go, "This one's for you, Mommy." Good job, Deej!

Derrick Robie
Derrick Robie Robie family

Derrick was all boy, all the time.

Doreen Robie: You know, he was going to get me a home run and … he usually did.

Dale Robie: He loved it.

Derrick also attended a recreation program at the park and Doreen Robie always watched as her son made the short trip. But one August morning Derrick's baby brother was crying, and Doreen Robie had her hands full.

Doreen Robie: Dalton was very fussy that morning and Derrick says, "It's OK, Mom.  I'll — I'll go by myself.  You know, it's no problem.  The kids are probably going down the street."

Derrick was nearly 5 and knew the route very well. So, Doreen Robie allowed him to walk by himself.  She packed his lunch and off he went.

Doreen Robie: He gave me a kiss and I said, "I love you," and he says, "I love you, Mom."

Dan Rather: So, he has a block — only a block to go?

Doreen Robie: Mm-hmm (affirms).

Dan Rather: No streets to cross.

Doreen Robie: No. It was a dead-end street. The first time I've ever let him go anywhere alone.

A short time later, as storm clouds moved in, Doreen felt something close to panic.

Doreen Robie: I had an awful feeling.

It began to pour.  

Doreen Robie: I swear that that was the moment that he died.

Dan Rather: You believe that?

Doreen Robie: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  I — I — I think that he was letting me know.

Dale Robie: Derrick was very close to us. If there was any way he could tell us he was leaving, he would have tried.

Doreen raced to the park to pick up Derrick.  She was told that he had never arrived.  

Derrick Robie crime scene
Derrick Robie crime scene Steuben County District Attorney's Office

Nearly five hours later, searchers found Derrick's body in a small patch of woods, just a few yards from the park and a few hundred yards from his own front door.  Derrick had been choked and beaten to death with rocks.  Neighbors placed a cross at the scene.

Doreen Robie: I've lost my boy. We've lost him. He's gone.

Dale Robie: The biggest thing I remember was – (to Doreen, too upset to continue) — go … go ahead.

Doreen Robie (to Dale): That when you told your dad that you wouldn't be able to do the things that he did with you?

The streets of Savona were empty as worried parents kept their children inside. The immediate assumption was that Derrick Robie's killer was a stranger from out of town.  That's what Eric Smith's grandfather believed.

Red Wilson: When this terrible thing was done, everybody, including myself, thought it was an adult and how could anybody do such a terrible, terrible thing.

Eric Smith grew up just across town and liked to spend time with his grandparents, Red and Edie Wilson.

Red Wilson: He would always come in and give us hugs and kisses.

Red Wilson: He loved being a comic, liked clowning around.

Edie Wilson: He definitely wanted to be paid attention to.

Red Wilson: Yeah.

Eric Smith
"He loved being a comic, liked clowning around," Red Wilson said of his grandson, Eric Smith. Smith's  bright red hair and freckles made him a target of bullies at school. Family home video

But Eric'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. 

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Why did he do it?

CAPTAIN WALTER DELAP: I don't know why he did it. … I asked him why he did it.  His words, almost verbatim, were, "I don't know. I just saw this kid, this blond kid, and I wanted to hurt him."

A SUSPECT IN PLAIN SIGHT

On August 2, 1993, the body of Derrick Robie was found in a small patch of woods midway between the park where he was headed and his home.

John Tunney (2004): It's hard to comprehend somebody doing what Eric Smith did.

John Tunney: He chose to end Derrick Robie's life. And he chose to do it in a way that was much more than just killing.

Prosecutor John Tunney vividly remembers the crime scene and the brutality of the murder.

John Tunney: He could have simply killed Derrick, but he chose not to simply kill Derrick.

Investigator Charles Wood (at the crime scene in 2004): Directly behind us is the scene where the homicide occurred.

Charles Wood was lead investigator. The evidence showed that Derrick was lured from the sidewalk and strangled. The killer's identity was then still unknown.

Investigator Charles Wood: Well, then he discovered and dug up one very large rock and one smaller rock and he battered Derrick with those rocks. He went into Derrick's lunch bag, and he smashed a banana and took Derrick's Kool-Aid, and he actually poured that Kool-Aid into the wounds that had been made by the large rocks. And he sodomized Derrick with a small stick that he had found.

Derrick Robie murder evidence
The banana, left, and an empty drink container from Derrick Robie's lunch bag were found at the crime scene. Evidence

Lastly, the killer arranged Derrick's body.

Charles Wood: The left sneaker had been removed and was lying near Derrick's right hand. And his right sneaker had been removed and was lying near Derrick's left hand.

Charles Wood: It almost looked like the body had been posed in that position.

John Tunney: Eric continued to deal with Derrick's body because he wanted to, because he chose to and, most frighteningly, because he enjoyed it.

The word "enjoy," so disturbing in this context, would come up again and again in the course of the investigation. The very first time was four days after the murder when Eric Smith walked into the police command center to see if he could be of help in solving the crime.

John Hibsch: Totally enjoyed it. Totally enjoyed it. Didn't want it to end.

John Hibsch and other investigators repeatedly talked with Eric Smith and had no idea the killer was sitting right in front of them.

John Hibsch: I mean, he's looking right at me, he's — you know, he's kind of hunched over a little bit and he's very, very upbeat, very happy. He likes the fact that he's being talked to.

At first, Eric denied seeing Derrick Robie, but then he abruptly changed his story.

John Hibsch: He says, "Right across the street from the open field. And that's where I saw Derrick." And when he said that, he about knocked me off the chair.

Derrick Robie's lunchbag
Eric Smith told investigators what Derrick Robie was wearing and described the lunch bag he was carrying as "kind of cool, really." Evidence

John Hibsch: He's putting him right on top of the crime scene. You just got to walk across on open field and — and you're at the scene of where the murder was. So, we asked him then what was he wearing, and he went on. He said he had a white T-shirt on, and he had this lunch bag in his hand. "OK, tell me about the lunch bag." And he said, "It was kind of cool, really."

The investigators pushed Eric to pinpoint where he last saw Derrick.

John Hibsch: And — and that's when he got — he started to get emotional. His — his voice started cracking. His put his head down, and he brings his fists up. And his fists were vibrating a little bit. And he goes, "You think I killed him, don't you?" I saw from the other two investigators they were just like, "Wow."

Eric asked to take a break, and his father brought him a glass of Kool-Aid.

John Hibsch: Just as we got back into it again about where he'd seen Derrick again, he — he grabs the red Kool-Aid and just throws it on the ground.

John Hibsch: Now we all knew that Derrick, the boy that was killed, had red Kool-Aid spilled all over him. You know, I'm thinking that, you know, this kid's seen something that's very, very traumatic and he —- and there's a block in there, and — and I can't get around it.

Eric Smith with investigators
Investigators asked Eric Smith to get on his bike and show them where he was when he saw Derrick Robie.  "During the re-enactment, I would have to say he enjoyed it. He was having a good time," said Investigator Wood. Evidence

The next day, investigators ask Eric to get on his bike and show them where he was when he saw Derrick Robie. Investigator Wood was there. In the police videotape, Eric looks calm as can be.

Investigator Charles Wood: During the re-enactment, I would have to say he enjoyed it. He was having a good time.

But it quickly became obvious that Eric could not have seen all that he described from the distance he claimed to be.

Red Wilson: There was a discrepancy in Eric's story.

Red Wilson, Eric's grandfather, says the family knew Eric was hiding something.

Red Wilson: In — in no way did we feel that he had done it.

Red Wilson: We felt that he knew something. Maybe somebody had threatened him, that's why he wouldn't tell.

Five days after he was killed, Derrick Robie was buried in his baseball uniform. Just two days later, his killer confessed.

Red Wilson: I was there. I was there when my grandson confessed. It was — it was terrible.

Family members sat Eric down and begged him to tell what he knew. The truth was more terrible than they ever imagined.

Dan Rather: And he just said what?

Red Wilson: "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry. I killed that little boy." It's still hard to believe.

Eric Smith
Eric Smith presses his hand to his mother's against the window of a police car after his confession and arrest. "We love you Eric," said Tammy Smith. CBS News

Red Wilson: The question is, you know, to me, why? How? How could he take the life of a little boy?

A year after Eric's confession, the question remains. What could possibly compel this child to kill another? 

John Tunney: Does he know what he's done? Does he know it's wrong?

A stricken community is looking to a courtroom for an answer.

KEVIN BRADLEY | Defense attorney: The evidence you're gonna hear in this case is going to be horrible.

Will the trial of Eric Smith put an end to the mystery that began on August 2, 1993, the last day of Derrick Robie's short life?

WHY DID ERIC KILL?

Steuben County Courthouse | August 1994 

The trial of the people vs.  Eric Smith is finally under way. 

Prosecuting attorney John Tunney:

Prosecuting attorney John Tunney
At trial, prosecuting attorney John Tunney motions to show 4-year-old Derrick Robie's height. Eric Smith and his defense attorney Kevin Bradley are at right. CBS News

JOHN TUNNEY: (in court) He was about that tall [motioning to show Derrick Robie's height].  He weighed 40 pounds.

JOHN TUNNEY: He lived four years and 10 months.  And that person killed him.  Eric Smith choked and battered the young life out of Derrick Robie. 

In New York State, murder is the one crime for which a 13-year-old can be tried in adult court.

Dan Rather: You're a father of five.

John Tunney: That's correct.

Dan Rather: You must have thought about that — must think about it in the context of trying a 13-year-old son of another family.

John Tunney: Yes.  But you know where I first thought of it is when I looked at 4-year-old Derrick Robie, the face of every one of my five children was superimposed on that child's body.

At the heart of this trial, the haunting question: Why did Eric kill? 

JOHN TUNNEY: (In court) The fact is that Eric chose to do something horrible.

Defense Attorney Kevin Bradley says there was no choice.

Eric Smith trial
Eric Smith's attorney Kevin Bradley holds a large rock Smith used to kill Derrick Robie.  CBS News

KEVIN BRADLEY: (in court) Eric Smith suffers from a very serious mental disease. To pick this up, throw this down on a little boy's head, does that suggest calm, deliberate action? A plan?

KEVIN BRADLEY: You're going to hear testimony by people that say Eric just seemed like a normal child and then the rage explodes.

John Tunney: It does not diminish the fact that he understood what he was doing.

Tunney says it's murder, plain and simple.

John Tunney: Eric analyzed the situation and chose to do it.

To help him with the case, Tunney will be calling on Derrick's parents, Dale and Doreen Robie.

John Tunney: She has to personalize the tragedy, the loss, the terror, to bring Derrick Robie the person into that courtroom.

JOHN TUNNEY: Describe Derrick.                                                                      

DOREEN ROBIE: He was my cute little firecracker. 

But bringing Derrick Robie into the courtroom is not going to be easy. 

DOREEN ROBIE: He was my little T-ball player.  He wa — very good athlete.

JOHN TUNNEY: How did he get along and interact with people?

KEVIN BRADLEY: Objection, Your Honor.

JOHN TUNNEY: Derrick participated in the — in the recreation program.

KEVIN BRADLEY: Objection to the form.

JOHN TUNNEY: What was he participating in?

KEVIN BRADLEY: I'm going to object again at this point.

The judge agrees and Doreen is not permitted to say much at all about Derrick.

Doreen Robie (1994): I wish I would have gotten a chance to talk about Derrick a little more… And it really wasn't fair that I didn't get to tell them what kind of kid he was.

It's time for the defense to present its case.  Bradley begins by calling on two people who know more about Eric than anyone else: his mother, Tammy Smith, and his stepfather, Ted Smith. 

The jury heard that as a toddler Eric threw temper tantrums and banged his head on the floor. He had speech problems, was held back in school and relentlessly bullied. 

TAMMY SMITH: He would say things like, "I'm stupid.  I'm nobody.  I'm," you know, "I'm never going to be anybody," that kind of stuff.

TED SMITH: I remember him coming up to me in the kitchen.  He was really upset, and he was crunching his fist and shaking and told me that — he said, "Dad, I need help." … "I feel like I want to hurt somebody." And he said, "Yes, I do. I want to hurt something."

TAMMY SMITH: At one point, he turned and told me that he — he did it… I asked him why … he just kept saying, "I don't know. I don't know." And he cried.

Defense psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Herman diagnosed Eric with intermittent explosive disorder, uncontrollable rage.

DR. STEPHEN HERMAN: People who have this disorder describe feeling as if they're about to explode. … After the episodic rage, the child may appear to be quote "normal."

An expert for the prosecution disagreed with Dr. Herman's diagnosis.

DR. KATHLKEEN QUINN: It's a rare disorder, rarely seen at the age that Eric is.

And specialists from both sides subjected Eric to extensive medical testing. They examined brain function, hormone levels, and found nothing to explain his violent behavior. 

Because of the sexual nature of his crime, the question of whether Eric was abused was repeatedly raised at trial, but repeatedly denied.

JOHN TUNNEY: Did he indicate to you generally and consistently that he had not been either physically or sexually abused?

Dr. STEPHEN HERMAN: Yes, he has always indicated that.

However, there was testimony that Eric's older sister, Stacy Hevner, was sexually abused by their stepfather.

Stacy Hevner: He molested me … I'd want to know if he was molested. There had to have been something bothering him. 

Still, there was absolutely no evidence that Ted Smith or anyone else sexually abused Eric.

John Tunney: Are there issues? Are there problems? Sure. But it does not regularly produce killers.   

John Tunney: Did he know what he was doing? Did he know when he was strangling Derrick, that he was strangling a child … And if he knew that what he was doing was wrong, that he shouldn't have been doing it, then he can have every psychological, psychiatric problem in the world and he's still responsible for what he did.

Dan Rather: Under the law.

John Tunney: Under the law.

But what does the jury believe?

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

JUDGE DONALD G. PURPLE: So, you find the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree?

VOICE #4:  Yes.

JUDGE DONALD G. PURPLE: Is that unanimous?

VOICE #4: Yes.

Eric's parents, Ted and Tammy Smith, were devastated, convinced their child was sick.

JUDGE DONALD G. PURPLE: Take the young man in custody.

He would be sentenced to the maximum: nine years to life in prison. The murdered boy's parents, Dale and Doreen Robie, cried with relief not knowing that they were being sentenced, too.

EVERY TWO YEARS …

Jim Axelrod: The Robies, they're serving a life sentence.

Joni Johnston: Uh-huh (affirms). … every time that inmate is up for parole … They relive it.  So, it's just a nightmare for them.

Dale Robie: it really felt like it, you know, at a certain point, why do we have to? Wasn't the crime enough?

Jim Axelrod:  When Eric Smith was sentenced … was there a sense … "Now we can get on with our lives?"

Dale Robie: You hear the "nine years to life." And I think back then everybody was focusing on the life side of it.

Dale and and Doreen Robie were relieved that the boy who murdered their beloved son was locked away. 

Dale Robie: We were still trying to get over our loss … Then I think we almost got settled in … for a year or two, then it hit us.

Derrick Robie
Derrick Robie Robie family

What hit them was the harsh reality that Derrick's killer would one day be eligible for release.  Eric Smith's first parole hearing was in 2002.

Doreen Robie: They could decide that well, now he's done his time and we're going to let him go. … It scares the hell out of me. 

The Robies weren't allowed inside the closed-door hearings, so they wrote letters and made home videos to remind the board about their devastating loss. 

Doreen Robie: It upsets me, the fact that we have to beg to keep this killer behind bars.

Smith's parole was denied. But two years later, he was back before the board.

Eric Smith interview
Eric Smith read his statement to "48 Hours" in 2004.  CBS News

In 2004, Smith was 24 years old.  This is a statement he read for our "48 Hours" cameras:

ERIC SMITH (reading): "Hi, my name is Eric Smith. You first met me 11 years ago. … I know my actions have caused a terrible loss in the Robie family, and for that I am truly sorry."

Joni Johnston: I think that Eric Smith was incredibly troubled, and I think he was a dangerous young man.    

Joni Johnston is a clinical forensic psychologist.  For more than 20 years, she's been evaluating inmates who are up for parole. 

Joni Johnston: When we're looking at a very inexact science, if you will, trying to predict whether somebody is — is dangerous … it's like balancing a scale. … are we willing to take a risk?

Johnston has never met Eric Smith, but "48 Hours" asked her to look at his case.

Joni Johnston: I don't see Eric Smith at all as a kid who snapped. I see him as a kid who escalated. … from hurting animals starting at around age 11 and who eventually progressed to hurting a child. 

She also read transcripts of his parole hearings.

Joni Johnston: 2004 was really the most frightening … this is somebody who goes into a tremendous amount of detail in terms of what he did.

Back then, John Tunney shared some of what Smith told the parole board.

John Tunney (2004, reading parole hearing transcript): Question: "You convinced him to go to this field. What did you do next?" … Answer: "Put my hands around him and strangled him."

All these years later, Eric Smith's words are still chilling.

John Tunney (reading): "When you were doing that, was that something that gave you a good feeling? "Answer: "At the moment, it did, yes."

Joni Johnston:  Probably the most significant and frightening thing is this is a kid where the narrative seems to have been this kind of rage, or this person's inability to control his anger. … And yet … the emotion he expresses is pleasure or enjoyment.  

John Tunney [reading]: Question: "Why do you think that was?" Answer: "Because — instead of me being hurt, I was hurting somebody else. Growing up, I was always picked on, disrespected, made fun of."

John Tunney: Eric was tired of being the victim in his mind … And he wanted to see what it felt like to be the victimizer.

Jim Axelrod [reading]: There's a question. "Mr. Smith … If you had not admitted to someone that you had done this, do you think it would've been a fair statement to say that you probably would have done it again?" Answer: "Yes."

That confirmed Tunney's belief that Smith at 13 was a budding serial killer 

John Tunney:  I was afraid then, and frankly, (sigh) as I sit here now, I think that Eric Smith may very well have done it again — 'cause it was such a positive experience for him.

Jim Axelrod: It made him feel good.

John Tunney: He got a lot out of it.  And — had he not been identified … he wouldn't have paid a price.

The parole board's decision in 2004 was no surprise. But, for the Robies, there was always another hearing looming.

Jim Axelrod:  It must have felt like a weight hanging right over your head.

Doreen Robie: Yes. … there's all these … really happy times that are supposed to happen throughout your life. … but there's always that.

Dale Robie: We always got a letter about three or four months prior to that … Ours always fell around Christmas.

Doreen Robie: You know, here putting the Christmas tree up, and we're reading this letter that, here we go again. … it just made me angry.

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

This is Eric Smith in 2009, just months before his fifth parole hearing:

ERIC SMITH: It's understandable that they would never want me to be out in society.

ERIC SMITH: My anger wasn't directed at Derrick at all. It was directed at all the other guys who used to pick on me. And when I was torturing and killing Derrick … That was what I saw in my head.

Smith, almost 30, was interviewed by WENY-TV as he prepared to face the board.

ERIC SMITH: The only thing that I can say to 'em is I'm not the same person. … there's not a day that goes by in some way, shape, or form that I'm, like, forced to remember what I did … I'm automatically thinking I killed Derrick and the pain that I caused Dale and Doreen Robie. 

John Tunney [watching interview with Axelrod]: The problem is … how sincere is it? … versus how contrived or calculated it is? … I certainly can't tell as I sit here.

Jim Axelrod: You can't?

John Tunney: No. … for us to have any real hope, he has to be accurate when he says, you know, "I'm different," you know, "I'm self-aware and I have every reason in the world to behave." 

Jim Axelrod: It's not a question does he believe it.  Is it true?

John Tunney:  Is it accurate.  Exactly.

ERIC SMITH: I did kill Derrick. And for that, you know, I am sorry. … And there's nothing I can do to bring him back. I mean, if I could switch places with him and take the grave for him to live, I'd do it in a second.

Joni Johnston:  Remorse is important for sure.

Joni Johnston also wants to know if it's the truth but cautions that expressions of remorse at a parole hearing can be difficult to judge.

Joni Johnston:  is it genuine remorse? Lemme tell ya. There is no psychological test. (laughs) There is no face.  There is no behavioral indicator of remorse. … We don't really know if this remorse is real.

The parole board in 2010 turned him down again, but as the years passed, Johnston says Smith seemed to be changing.

Joni Johnston: You're starting to see some compassion — from him for other people. So, I'm seeing a little bit of hope for him now.

Jim Axelrod: Is Eric Smith growing or is he simply refining his message?   

Joni Johnston: I think both. … certainly parole boards have to always separate that out, which is why they're not just relying on what this inmate is saying in the parole hearing. You know, thank the lord … They're gonna be … looking at all this person's history. What has this person done or — or not done in the two years since he's been here? … they're looking at the parole interview as one piece of that puzzle.

But for the Robies, decades of endless parole hearings have taken a toll.

Doreen Robie: It's not fair that we have to keep doing this.

Jim Axelrod: Did you ever lose the energy to keep going with this? …  I — I can't anymore?

Doreen Robie: Yeah, that, I mean … he would say, "But we're doin' it for him in his memory." And I'm, like, "You're right" … And I know that some people probably think, "Geez, you should just get over this and — and move on." But any parent that has ever lost a child knows that you don't ever get over it.

On October 5, 2021, 41-year-old Eric Smith, went before the parole board for the 11th time.

Joni Johnston:  You have somebody … who's completed a ton of programs … He's got some more educational goals. … His risk is low, according to … risk assessment that are being done.

Smith even told them that he was engaged.  He says his fiancée was studying to be a lawyer and wrote him asking about the juvenile justice system. Over time, he says, they ended up falling in love.

Joni Johnston:  Eric Smith at 13 is not the same person that he is — that he is at 31 … Or at 41. He has changed. We all change. … And you kinda go, "What else can he do? … to prove that he is no longer a danger to society. … now we're at the point where it becomes, is this about punishment or about rehabilitation?

LOCAL NEWS REPORT: Breaking news.  The Savona man who killed a four-year-old boy in 1993, has been granted parole.

Child killer gets parole after 28 years behind bars 06:39

Dale Robie was at work when he heard the news he'd been dreading for so many years and called Doreen.

Dale Robie: We found each other on the porch and gave each other a hug.

John Tunney: I have some sympathy for the people who are called upon to make that decision. … And that's why I … have such hope — that they're right.

Jim Axelrod: At the end of the day, it's still a little bit of a gamble.

John Tunney: Oh, no, no. It's a huge gamble. … This parole decision is a high-risk enterprise, to be sure.

A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS

Weeks after Eric Smith was granted parole, dozens gathered in Savona to peacefully protest his release.

PROTESTER: "We are here as a community to stand together for justice for Derrick Robie … and for Dale and Doreen Robie …"

Dale Robie: They wanted to remember Derrick because all the attention was now on Eric being released. So, they didn't want people to forget, you know.

Doreen Robie: It was very touching.

Doreen and Dale Robie
Doreen and Dale Robie CBS News

Many in Savona feared Smith wanted to move back to live with his mother.

Doreen Robie: I wasn't so much worried about us as I was everybody else.

Dale Robie: I just knew where a lot of people in town in the village stood.

Doreen Robie: You know, we don't want him here. Better not send him here.

And the parole board agreed. Smith's release was delayed for months until approved housing was found for him in Queens, New York, over 200 miles away from Savona.

WROC NEWS REPORT: "This is breaking news from News 8 … Eric Smith, who has been behind bars for nearly 3 decades … is no longer in prison."

And then on February 1, 2022, after being locked up for 28 years, Eric Smith quietly slipped out of Woodbourne Correctional Facility — out of view of cameras — a free man.

Doreen Robie: I understand why after so many years they decided to give him a chance. And that's fine, you know for him and his family.

It would begin a new chapter for the Robies who had fought for so long to keep Smith in prison. 

Doreen Robie: You know he's been released. But in a way so have we. … No more parole. … I can get on with our lives. … Now the true healing can begin.

Doreen says part of the healing process has been letting go of her anger.

Doreen Robie: I would rather laugh than cry any day of the week … If you let it, it's going to eat you alive.

Jim Axelrod: The anger.

Doreen Robie: Yes.

The Robies say they choose not to think about Eric Smith, but instead focus on friends and family — especially their son Dalton, now 30.

Doreen Robie: You have to find joy in life. You have to enjoy each other, because life is too short and just live.

Dale Robie: August 2nd, the day we lost him, we always try and go to do something fun. White ice cream with sprinkles. That's what Derrick called vanilla, so we try to —

Doreen Robie: Wherever we are, we have to go find ice cream. 

Dale Robie: (cries) Even though it's sad. It's happy. 

Killer of 4-year-old boy freed, parents begin to heal by 48 Hours on YouTube

As for Eric Smith, since his release, "48 Hours" has been unable to contact him. But in 2009 he told WENY-TV, he had big plans for his future.

ERIC SMITH [2009]: I want to get married and raise a family. You know hold down a job. Pursue the American dream.

He also said he wanted to counsel kids who have been bullied — just like he had been.

Jim Axelrod: The question is will Eric Smith be a success story or somebody were pointing to and saying, "the system blew it with that one"?

John Tunney: That's exactly right. … I keep going back to my hope. … Time will tell. 

Back in the summer of 1993, to honor Derrick Robie, volunteers – including Eric Smith's great grandfather — bulldozed the scene of the crime and put in a new ball field in memory of the little T- ball player. 

Today, up on the hill watching over the field is a statue of Derrick. It was sculpted by Doreen's uncle and funded by people from all over the country.

Derrick Robie memorial statue
A statue of the unofficial mayor of Savona overlooks a ball field named in honor of Derrick Robie. CBS News

Dale Robie [reading plaque on the statue]: "Dedicated to be a gentle reminder of what childhood is meant to be. Derrick J. Robie."

Doreen Robie: I love that he's the only person in town that has a statue. A lot of people called him the "mayor of Savona" because he was pretty well known.

Jim Axelrod: At four years and 10 months old?

Doreen Robie: Yes. … He just, he was so much fun. He was just a great kid.

Eric Smith will remain on parole for the rest of his life.


Produced by Judy Tygard, Lisa Freed and Chris Young Ritzen. Mead Stone is the producer-editor. Tamara Weitzman is the development producer.  Kat Teurfs and Michael Loftus are the associate producers. Mike Baluzy, Greg Kaplan, Doreen Schechter and Gregory F. McLaughlin are the editors. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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