Eric Smith, who has been denied parole 10 times since his conviction for the murder of a 4-year-old boy in Savona, NY has been released from prison. The age of Smith at the time of the crime and his multiple denials for release has shone a spotlight on the parole system in New York State.

The small town of Savona, where Eric Smith admitted to killing young Derrick Robie (Google Maps)
The small town of Savona, where Eric Smith admitted to killing young Derrick Robie (Google Maps)

Smith was just 13 years old when police said he killed Derrick Robie in 1993. He was tried as an adult, and after his conviction for second-degree murder was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison before the opportunity of parole. His first hearing in 2002 resulted in a parole denial, as did the subsequent eight.

The most vocal opponents of Smith's release were his victim's parents, Dori and Dale Robie. In addition to advocating that Smith remain in prison, the Robies also vocally supported extending the amount of time between parole hearings for violent felons, urging lawmakers to raise the waiting period from two years to five years. They cited the pain of having to relive the loss of their child so frequently, with supporting lawmakers adding that some hearings for offenders that are "clearly not going to get out of prison" are unneeded every 24 months.

Opponents of the change argue that more than doubling the time between parole hearings would discourage some prisoners from deciding to chose a path that leads to rehabilitation if they see their possibility of release shrink.

The age of violent offenders may also play a part in the decision to amend the parole process. While he admitted to the abhorrent killing, the Juvenile Law Center cites laws passed in the 1990s, the era of Smith's arrest, that dramatically increased the amount of young people being charged as adults, and argues against it.

Scientific research shows key developmental differences between youth and adults that impact youth’s decision making, impulse control, and susceptibility to peer pressure. While these differences do not excuse youth from responsibility for their actions, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that youth are less blameworthy than adults and more capable of change and rehabilitation

Smith was approved for parole in October of 2021, but was only recently released after appropriate housing was arranged. He plans to live with relatives in Queens, NY.

Smith was featured in A&E's Kids Who Kill in 2017

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