A New York man who went to prison as a teenager for killing a 4-year-old boy told parole officials who granted his release that he had been bullied and took out his anger on his victim.
Eric M. Smith was granted parole on his 11th appearance before the parole board last month after being locked up for 28 years. In a parole hearing transcript released Wednesday, he said he’s engaged to be married and is pursuing a college degree.
Smith said he was engaged in December 2019, but he met the woman at least two years before that.
According to him, his fiancee was studying to be a lawyer, and she contacted Smith to ask him about the juvenile justice system. She was doing research to compare the juvenile justice systems in North and South America.
“I answered all her questions,” Smith said, “and I started to get to know her, we became friends, and then we developed a liking for one another.”
He went on to say that while they wrote to each other, she was in a relationship, so Smith 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. I didn’t like the idea of me ruining a relationship…”
Later, in 2017, Smith said his sister asked him if he knew this woman.
“Yeah,” he responded, “how do you know her?”
His sister told him they were friends on Facebook, so Smith and her reconnected, picking up where they left off, as Smith described it.
He said they fell in love and when he asked her to marry him and she said yes, “I was possibly, in that moment, the happiest man alive.”
In granting parole after 10 previous denials, the parole board said it considered Smith’s age at the time of the attack and clean prison disciplinary record.
Smith was convicted of second-degree murder in 1994 for luring Derrick Robie into woods near the younger boy’s home and striking his head with a rock. Derrick was walking alone to summer camp at a park in the Steuben County village of Savona in August 1993.
The case got wide publicity because of the tender age of the victim and suspect, along with a widely circulated photo of the adolescent Smith in court, wearing a Bugs Bunny sweatshirt and a mop of red hair.
Smith’s lawyer unsuccessfully argued that he was mentally ill. Smith was sentenced to nine years to life in prison.
Derrick’s parents, Dale and Doreen Robie, opposed Smith’s release each time it was previously considered and have lobbied for parole reforms that include extending the time between hearings for violent offenders from the current two years to five.
Dale Robie told local media the family did not want to comment on the latest decision.