ELEVEN YEARS AFTER 13-YEAR-OLD ERIC SMITH MURDERED
FOUR-YEAR-OLD DERRICK ROBIE, SMITH EXPLAINS WHY HE KILLED --
"48 HOURS MYSTERY," SATURDAY, DEC. 11
In August 1993, 13-year-old Eric Smith made national headlines as a red-haired, freckle-faced killer. Smith's looks and age were so completely at odds with the horrific crime -- he was convicted of murdering four-year-old Derrick Robie -- that he nearly got away it. Until now, Smith has never explained why he killed Robie. Police investigators and veteran prosecutors found it difficult to comprehend that this child could kill another child in such a brutal way. CBS News' Dan Rather reported on this story 11 years ago and revisits it as Smith becomes eligible for parole and speaks out for the first times about the crime. A 48 HOURS MYSTERY: "Why Did Eric Kill?" will be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 11 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Robie was found strangled and battered with rocks just 100 yards from his home in a small patch of woods in the tiny village of Savona, N.Y. A week after the murder, Smith calmly confessed to the killing. The question many wanted answered was why Smith did it? The community looked to Smith's trial for answers that never came.
Now, after a decade in prison and years of intense therapy, Smith is up for parole. He will have to convince the parole board that he has been rehabilitated and no longer poses a threat to society. As the Robies campaign to keep Smith behind bars, he breaks more than 10 years of silence and makes his own case for release and, for the first time, tells 48 HOURS MYSTERY what drove him to commit murder.
In a statement that Smith reads for 48 HOURS, he says the following to the Robies: "I know my actions have caused a terrible loss in the Robie family, and for that I am truly sorry. I've tried to think as much as possible about what Derrick will never experience: his 16th birthday, Christmas, anytime, owning his own house, graduating, going to college, getting married, his first child. If I could go back in time, I would switch places with Derrick and endure all the pain I've caused him. If it meant that he would go on living, I'd switch places, but I can't."
Smith tries to explain why he killed four-year-old Derrick: "So after quite a few years of verbal abuse, and having been told that I'm nothing, I shut down my feelings so I wouldn't feel the emotional pain which made me vulnerable and weak. But the damage was done. I began to believe that I was nothing and a nobody, and my outlook on life was dark. I felt that when I went to school, I was going to hell because that's what it was for me, however minor or major each abuse situation. It all adds up 'til it gets to the point
where the individual cannot take anymore�.After a while, they may cope in a horrific way or take their emotional anger or rage out on someone who had done nothing to bring on such violence -- like Derrick -- not because they're evil or satanic little kids. It's because they want the abuse to stop, and it's the only way they know how to�."
Prosecutor John Tunney, who tried Smith's case, does not believe Smith should be released. Tunney tells 48 HOURS MYSTERY, "I don't doubt that�somewhere along the line, a light bulb has gone on, and all of a sudden Eric has a better understanding of the enormity of what he did�.Does that mean he's now safe to be back among us? Of course not."
Robie's mother, Doreen, tells Rather she cannot foresee the day when she doesn't care whether Smith is released. "We'll take this pain to our grave," she says. Her husband, Dale, adds, "Some people have said you know we need to forgive, but I can't yet."
Will Smith be able to convince the parole board he deserves to go free?
48 HOURS MYSTERY: "Why Did Eric Kill?" is produced by Judy Tygard, Chris Young and Denis O'Keefe. The senior producer is Katie Boyle and the executive producer is Susan Zirinsky.