The Disturbing Crime Of The Freckle-Faced Killer, Eric Smith

The following article includes descriptions of a crime and sexual assault involving a child.

In 1993, 4-year-old Derrick Robie was living with his parents, Dale and Doreen Robie, in Savona, a village in Upstate New York (via the Democrat & Chronicle). Doreen described her son as a "wonderful child." Tragically, Derrick's life was cut short on August 2. On that day, CBS News writes that Derrick decided to make the short walk from his home to summer camp at a nearby park. His mother later recounted their final interaction. "It's the first time I ever let [Derrick] go anywhere alone." Doreen said. "And it was one block down, same side of the street. ... He gave me a kiss and I said, 'I love you.' He says, 'I love you, Mom.' And he went hopping off the sidewalk."

According to Inside Edition, Doreen went to the park to pick up Derrick shortly after a thunderstorm rolled in. As she made her way to get her son, she noted (per CBS News), "I had an awful feeling." When Doreen arrived, camp officials said her son had not been at summer camp that day. CBS News reports that a panicked Doreen reported Derrick as missing, and the search for the young boy began. Five hours later, searchers discovered little Derrick's body in the woods not far from the park he had intended to walk to.

Derrick Robie's horrific injuries

Inside Edition reports that whoever had killed Derrick Robie was cruel and cold-blooded. He had been strangled and pummeled with rocks. He did not have his shoes on, and the killer had destroyed the lunch his mother had packed and poured kool-aid into his wounds. Horrifically, they had also sexually assaulted Derrick with a stick. According to The Independent, the nature of the crime prompted Savona's residents to believe that an out-of-towner had killed the young boy. They, however, were wrong. As the authorities searched for Derrick's killer, 13-year-old Eric Smith came under suspicion (via CBS News). Like the Robies, Democrat & Chronicle note that Smith also lived in Savona.

Per a different article from CBS News, Marlene Heskell, a Smith family friend, became concerned by the teen's behavior. She knew that Smith frequented the park where searchers had discovered Derrick's body. Moreover, Heskell explained, "[Eric] asked me what would happen if it [the killer] turned out to be a kid. I said, 'I think they seriously need some psychiatric help.' And he — 'Oh, OK,' you know. And he walked away." Thinking Smith knew something about the crime, Heskell told his mother to take her son to talk to the police.

CBS News writes that investigators first believed that Smith may have witnessed Robie's murder. They note that he "enjoyed" talking about the case. Eventually, Smith admitted that he had murdered Derrick Robie. He said, "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry. I killed that little boy."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Prosecutors tried Eric Smith as an adult

Nearly a week after Derrick Robie's barbaric death, the authorities arrested Eric Smith for his murder in August 1993, states CBS News. Smith divulged that he gained the 4-year-old's trust with the assurance that he knew a shortcut to the park (via The Independent). That's when he took Derrick into the woods and killed him. Although he was only 13, prosecutors decided to try Smith as an adult and charged him with second-degree murder. Due to his young age and the brutality of the crime, The Aquinas writes that the case became a media sensation. Likewise, news headlines gave the red-haired Smith a nickname: the "freckle-faced killer." reports that Smith's defense tried to argue that he was prone to fits of anger caused by his mother taking anti-seizure and antidepressant medications during her pregnancy. Furthermore, his attorney explained that he was mentally ill and, thus, was not legally at fault for killing Robie. Democrat & Chronicle add that his family and peers abused him at home and school. He later said they bullied him for "my ears, my glasses, being short, my red hair, pretty much all of those."

Nevertheless, prosecutors contended that Smith knew what he was doing when he killed Derrick. Prosecutor John Tunney explained (via CBS News), "What I do believe is that Eric was tired of being the victim in his mind ... and he wanted to see what it felt like to be the victimizer."

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

The parole board denied Eric Smith 10 times

According to CBS News, Eric Smith, then 14, received nine years to life for murdering Derrick Robie in August 1994. He served his time at a juvenile center until the age of 21. In 2001, he was transferred to state prison (per Democrat & Chronicle). A different article from CBS News reports that Smith first went up for parole in June 2002. However, the parole board denied him because he displayed "little remorse" for his crime. From then on, Smith went up for parole every two years. Through it all, Smith has revealed more and more about why he killed Derrick.

In 2009, he blamed bullying. Smith said (via CBS News), "My anger wasn't directed at Derrick at all." He added, "It was directed at ... all the other guys that used to pick on me. And when I was torturing and killing Derrick ... that was what I saw in my head." Meanwhile, Democrat & Chronicle writes that Robie's parents, Dale and Doreen Robie, attempted to change the legislation regarding parole hearings. Instead of two years, they wanted hearings held every five years.

Nevertheless, in October 2021, 41-year-old Smith went up for parole for the eleventh time (via CBS News). After 28 years in prison, the board granted him parole.

The village of Savona did not agree with his parole

CBS News reports that Eric Smith told the parole board in 2021 that he was engaged and in the process of obtaining a college degree. Moreover, he revealed that he had become devoutly religious. Smith also explained, "I'm not a threat." He continued, "The 13-year-old kid that took [Derrick's] life ... is not the man sitting in front of you talking ... 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." Shortly after the news of his parole came to light, Savona held a memorial for Derrick Robie to demonstrate their disapproval of the decision (per a different article from CBS News). The townspeople did not want Smith to return to the village.

Despite Savona's pushback, Smith's sister, Holly Soles, told Spectrum News that her brother "deserved a second chance." However, she noted that she was horrified by her brother's crime and sympathized with Derrick Robie's family. Soles said, "My heart breaks for the Robies." She added, "I couldn't imagine going through what they went through at all, and then finding out that their child's murderer was granted parole. I can't imagine what they're going through." Soles also voiced her opinion that Smith had changed for the better and said, "He wants to not just to prove that he's not a monster, as everyone says."

Eric Smith is a free man

Eric Smith left prison in February 2022 at the age of 42 (per CBS News). He reportedly lives in Queens, New York. Democrat & Chronicle writes that Smith told the parole board he was planning to find a job in electrical installation or carpentry. Smith also expressed his desire to start a family. However, he can only leave the state of New York with permission and has to check in regularly with his parole officer. Beyond that, details of Smith's life as a free man are scarce. Inside Edition reports that prosecutor John Tunney noted that Smith's release was a "huge gamble."

He also said (via CBS News) that only "time will tell" if Smith is genuinely reformed. On the other hand, Derrick Robie's parents explained that this gave them a sense of closure (via The Independent). Doreen Robie told "48 Hours," "He's been released, but in a way, so have we." She added, "No more parole. We can get on with our lives. Now the true healing can begin." 

Doreen went on to say (via CBS News), "I don't let him [Smith] take space in my head, I do not focus on where he is, what he's doing. ... 'cause I don't care. As long as he's not near friends and family." According to Inside Edition, the Robies (seen above) continue to mourn their little boy. Every year, on the anniversary of Derrick's death, they get ice cream in his honor.