The Tragic Story Of Derrick Robie's Murder

On August 2, 1992, 4-year-old Derrick Robie went for his first walk by himself (via CBS News). He was supposed to walk from his house in Savona, New York, to his summer camp close by. But Robie never made it — he was murdered in a tragic and shocking case that captured headlines across America.

Eric Smith, who was 13 years old in 1992, was often bullied for his appearance, mainly his red hair (per the Daily Mail). He was full of anger that August day, and when he encountered Derrick Robie, he was resentful of his popularity (via CBS News). Smith told Robie that he knew a shortcut, and the two boys walked through a secluded area together. Then, Smith, who was nine years older than Robie, strangled him and hit him with a huge 26-pound rock (via The News-Press). After Robie was dead, Smith sexually abused the younger child's body with a stick.

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).

Searching for an unlikely killer

At first, people assumed that an adult had killed Derrick Robie (via Democrat and Chronicle). After all, his body was close to a busy highway where any random stranger could have attacked him with an easy getaway afterward. A large-scale search for the killer went on for a week. However, CBS News reports that on the same day as the murder, Eric Smith asked a family friend what would happen if the murder at large turned out to be a child. Suspicious of the boy, the family friend phoned Smith's family, who in turn drove their son to the local police station. 

After the truth came out during questioning, the 13-year-old apologized to his mother, saying (via CBS News), "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry. I killed that little boy." After spending a week looking for an adult killer, the Savona community was faced with the horrible truth that the child murderer was just a child himself.

Becoming the bully

It was determined that Eric Smith had "intermittent explosive disorder," which can result in fits of rage that erupt into violent behavior (via The News-Press). He said that while he was attacking Derreck Robie, all he could think about was the terrible treatment he experienced at the hands of other kids who made fun of him. But he later said that in that moment, he "became the bully that I disliked in my life."

After being tried as an adult and found guilty of murder, Smith was sentenced to between nine years to a life sentence in prison. In 1994, Smith was sent to juvenile prison (via Democrat and Chronicle). Per CBS News, Eric Smith spent a total of 28 years in prison. He first spent time in a juvenile prison from his sentencing until he turned 21. After those first seven years, Smith was transferred to a New York State prison for adults, the Woodbourne Correctional Facility. 

Repeated appeals

Eric Smith basically grew up in a prison environment, and he says he learned a lot during his time in prison, like methods to control his anger. He mainly stayed out of trouble — he was disciplined in his youth for minor offenses, like kissing another inmate and sneaking a cigarette, but his last offense was in 2005 (via The Leader).

Smith was eligible to start an appeals process in 2001, which he did 10 times over the next 20 years (via Democrat and Chronicle). His appeals, two years apart each time, were always turned down until 2021. Smith learned useful life skills while incarcerated — he earned certifications in electrical installation and carpentry because he plans to find work in those fields now that he's out of prison. He even fell in love while he was still in prison after communicating with a woman who was studying the juvenile prison system for her law degree. They are now engaged. 

Making impactful legislation

Now that Eric Smith is out of jail, he is being closely monitored on parole, cannot leave New York state, and must follow other strict guidelines, reports Democrat and Chronicle.

The Robie family attended every single one of Smith's appeals, which took an excruciating toll as they relived their son's death every two years or so (via the Daily Mail). Smith has expressed deep remorse for killing Robie, saying (via Unilad), "I did kill Derrick. And for that, you know, I am sorry. If I could switch places with him and take the grave for him to live, I'd do it in a second."

The Robies have worked on legislation so that other families won't have to go through what they have — the legislation would require five years, not two, in between each parole request for violent offenders. This would shield victims' families from having to repeatedly relive their loved ones' deaths. 

Life after prison

Although the Robie family fought to keep Eric Smith in prison, they are now facing the reality that he's free. "He's been released, but in a way, so have we. No more parole. We can get on with our lives. Now the true healing can begin," said Doreen Robie (per Unilad).

Eric Smith has been highlighted in numerous TV specials, including "Eric Smith: Inside the Mind of a Child Killer" in 1998 (via IMDb) and "Kids Who Kill" in 2017 (via IMDb). In March 2022, CBS News released a "48 Hours" episode documenting Smith's journey through the incarceration system called "Eric Smith: Gambling on a Killer."

These days, Dale and Doreen Robie still celebrate their son's memory even decades later (via the Daily Mail). Each August 2, they buy a vanilla ice cream cone with sprinkles — Derrick's favorite food. Democrat and Chronicle reports that the Robies helped open a new baseball field in their community in the son's memory.