Releasing Child Killer Eric Smith Is a 'Huge Gamble,' Prosecutor Says

Eric Smith
Eric Smith during his murder trial, and now. CBS News/"48 Hours"

Eric Smith was just 13 when he brutally killed 4-year-old Derrick Robie. Now he is a free man.

Eric Smith was just 13 when he lured 4-year-old Derrick Robie into a stand of trees and choked him, hit him with rocks and poured the child's Kool-Aid over him. After the boy died, Smith sodomized him with a stick.

Eric Smith is 42 now. He is a free man living in Queens. He has a fiancée. What Derrick Robie's parents have are old photographs and a never-empty well of pain.

Last month, after decades of being denied, Smith was paroled after serving 28 years behind bars. He is forever changed, he told the parole board. He wants to live a normal life, he said. "I want to get married and raise a family," Smith told a TV station in 2009. "Pursue the American dream."

But John Tunney, who prosecuted Smith's case, has long said he fears Smith would kill again. "It's a huge gamble," Tunney told CBS' "48 Hours" in a segment now being streamed on Paramount +. "This parole decision is a high-risk enterprise, to be sure."

Dale and Doreen Robie said, in a recent interview with CBS News, that Smith's release marks a new beginning for them, as well, after decades of fighting to keep their boy's killer in prison.

"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," Derrick's mother said. "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."

In the summer of 1993, the Robies lived in the small town of Savona in northern New York. Derrick attended a recreation program at a park that was one block from his house. One August day, as Doreen Robie was sidetracked by Derrick's brother, the little boy told her, "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."

And off went little Derrick, clutching a bag containing the lunch his mom had made for him. She never saw him alive again.

A thunderstorm struck not long after, and Doreen ran down to pick up her son, only to be told he had never arrived.

Massive search parties later found his battered body, hidden in the trees, where it looked like his body had been staged, authorities said. His shoes had been removed. His lunch was torn open, and the Kool-Aid his mother had packed for him had been poured in his wounds. A stick had been used to sodomize him, authorities said, and heavy rocks had been dropped on him.

"He could have simply killed Derrick, but he chose not to simply kill Derrick," Tunney said. "Eric continued to deal with Derrick's body because he wanted to, because he chose to and, most frighteningly, because he enjoyed it."

After the boy's funeral, Smith confessed to his killing, saying he was in a rage and full of anger after years of being bullied for his red hair and freckles, for being slow in school, and for having big ears.

"Eric was tired of being the victim in his mind," Tunney told CBS News. "And he wanted to see what it felt like to be the victimizer."

When Smith was quietly released on parole in February, he went to live in Queens, New York. He said he did not want to return to Savona, which is probably for the best. 

It is such a small town, Tunney said, he feared Doreen would be in the grocery store and turn around to see the man who killed her son standing behind her in line. 

The Robies said they are trying to move on.

"August second, 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, " said Dale Robie, losing his composure.

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

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