SAVONA, N.Y. (WETM) – Eric Smith’s appeared before a parole board for the eleventh consecutive time on October 5, 2021 and was granted parole later that month. 18 News received a copy of his interview transcript, which provided answers to many questions and raised more questions, as well.
Here are the key takeaways from his October parole hearing:
What happened the day Derrick Robie died?
Disclaimer: the following details are extremely disturbing.
Early on in the interview, parole board members ran through the details of the killing of 4-year-old Derrick Robie and asked Smith for his account, as well.
Smith went to the local recreation center for a summer program that he would attend most Tuesdays and Thursdays. He said he would’ve rather had gone with his mother to her doctor’s appointment because he didn’t want to be at the rec center.
He arrived to the recreation center early, before it opened, and he kept “ramming” his bike into the table where volunteers were sitting. He said the volunteers tried to correct him, but he just got even more irritated, and it “festered” from that point on.
Smith left the pavilion, riding his bike when he saw Derrick Robie walking back to the rec center.
“When I had seen him the first thought I had was I want to hurt him… to take my anger out on him.”
Smith said he didn’t even consider at the time that a four-year-old should have been with an adult.
After that, Smith said he asked Robie if he wanted to see a shortcut through the woods and led him into the trees. Without saying a word, Smith attacked, stuffing a paper towel from Robie’s lunch in his mouth, strangled Robie until he passed out and started punching him. Then he took a rock and beat him with it “a lot.”
Perhaps the most disturbing detail of the murder is that Smith sodomized Robie with a stick. But one of the parole board members wanted clarification as to why Smith would do something like that.
He said that even after punching and beating him with a rock, Smith was “frantic and scared” Robie would get up and tell someone what happened because Smith could still feel his heart beating.
He wanted to make sure Robie’s heart stopped, so he tried piercing his eyes and chest with the stick, but “it wouldn’t go”, so his only other thought was if he sodomized Robie, the stick might reach his heart and kill him.
Smith then put Robie’s body on a pile of rocks and left without even knowing Robie was dead.
He went back to the rec center and later rode his bike around town, all the while thinking “What the hell did I just do.” He said he was “freaking out” until he confessed a week later.
Smith didn’t know the Robie family at all.
Why did he kill Derrick Robie?
Smith said he didn’t want to actually kill Robie initially. “I started out just wanting to hurt him ’cause I was mad…”
There were several contributing factors, Smith said, but nonetheless, “no one deserves that type of violence.”
He elaborated, saying that he had a lot of anger toward a lot of people, so he lashed out at Robie. He said he essentially became the bully that he had experienced from other people for being short, a redhead and having glasses.”I was constantly being targeted for being weaker, smaller, and I became the bully towards him, and he didn’t deserve it.”
Smith also said he had a learning disability and “barely skimmed by” in school. And while he had a good relationship with his mother, Tammy, he said his father was psychologically and verbally—not physically—abusive. “I was walking on eggshells any time I was around him.”
But according to a Buffalo News article from 1994, Dr. Stephen Herman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who interviewed the Smith family, said that Ted Smith, Eric’s stepfather, “probably hit Eric much more than he admits.”
Herman said that Eric always denied he was physically or sexually abused, but Herman wasn’t so sure. According to him, Ted Smith admitted to molesting Eric’s older sister but denied ever abusing Eric.
Plus, Herman said an uncle tried to sexually abuse Eric as a child, but Eric “rejected the advance.”
In his 2021 transcript, Eric said his father never hurt him in a way that he didn’t deserve. “If I got in trouble, I got spanked… but he wouldn’t just out of the blue start beating any of us, that wasn’t him”.
Where will Eric Smith live?
Smith was scheduled to be released from prison on November 17. However, as of the writing of this article, Smith still does not have an approved address, so he will stay in prison until a residence is approved.
In his parole hearing, he said he would likely stay with his mother until he can find his own place. Tammy Smith’s address is unknown.
Then he plans to either get an apartment or put a down payment on a house of his own and hopefully move in with his fiancee.
Smith was engaged in December of 2019 to a law student who contacted him to ask about the juvenile justice system in North America. He said she was doing a project for school about the differences between South American and North American juvenile justice systems.
They started getting to know each other and they “developed a liking for one another.” Because she had a boyfriend, Smith said he stopped talking to her.
“I didn’t feel that my falling in love with her when I felt she was falling in love with me was really healthy being that she was already in a relationship.”
In 2017, Smith reconnected with her after finding out his sister was her Facebook friend. He later proposed. “She said yes and I was possibly, in that moment, the happiest man alive.”
Former Steuben County District Attorney John Tunney told 18 News last month that in early parole hearings, Smith said he would want to come back to the area. However, in a 2012 article, the Steuben Courier reported that Smith had changed his mind and said he would not want to return to Savona.
What will Smith do for work?
Smith said a major goal of his is to get a college degree. He has started with a correspondence college out of Florida where he will get his Associate’s degree in crusade evangelism. He plans to eventually get a Master’s degree.
He received his GED in 1999.
He said that once he gets out he plans to get a job in electrical installation or carpentry fabrication since he has certificates for both. He admits he’ll need a refresher course to bring him up to speed on all the current codes and to get into a union.
But his longer-term goal is to get involved in ministry, which he said is what God is calling him to do.
What has he learned since 1993?
Smith was asked to provide insight he’s gained in the last 28 years in light of everything that has happened.
He said he knows that he can never understand the pain Robie’s parents feel at losing their son. If he saw them he would tell them he’s sorry because he realizes everything Derrick didn’t get to do because Smith killed him.
Smith said he knows Robie “is never gonna graduate high school and go to college and be a man, get married, have kids, be successful, and I took that away from him.”
He said he’s not the same person as he was 28 years ago, but “that in itself doesn’t take away from their anguish and pain.”
Smith added that as a kid, he didn’t know what “value” meant and not just for material objects, but for people, as well. Value is “you investing into their lives to make them a better person and by doing do you’re enhancing the future of that person,” Smith said.
With that new idea of “value” and personal investment, Smith said he now understands the gravity of taking Robie’s life because Derrick “could have been a doctor who may have invented a new technique to make heart surgery more effective… He could have been a lawyer, he could have been a teacher cause more students to be better men and women.
Plus, Smith added that fellow inmates have been very helpful, giving him their stories and testimonies.
Drawing a difference between what he calls “toxic shame” and “healthy shame”, Smith said his fellow inmates and his fiancee helped him deal with the immense guilt he’s felt. “They were able to help me see that it wasn’t my fault even though for the longest time I thought it was. It’s been a difficult road.”
In his final thoughts, he also drew a difference between responsibility and accountability. “One is saying I did the action and the other is saying why you did it.” He said it took him years to come to terms with being accountable after he accepted the responsibility that he did kill Robie.
“I didn’t trust anyone, I didn’t trust myself, I didn’t value anything in terms of healthy. My complete outlook was unhealthy… all of the angst that I was holding onto was because I didn’t have the communication skills in order to express adequately what I thought, how I felt, what I perceived, and I’ve gained that over the years.
He promised the parole board that upon his release, he would prove that he’s not only not a threat, but also an asset to society.