Last weekend I saw this episode (forgot what channel) of a documentary-style series that CBS does called 48 Hours. Featured on this episode was Eric Smith, who at the age of 13 murdered Derrick Robie who was 4 years old. The episode traced back the story and focused on the parole hearings of Eric, now an adult. He has been denied parole 4 times, so he has been in prison since he was 14 (he is now 29) for a crime committed at age 13.
Eric Smith, age 13-14, on trial for murder
Derrick Robie, murdered at age 4.
Eric Smith as an adult and prisoner. He is 29 now.
Here are some facts about the case, as excerpted from the 48 Hours episode, in italics. I have bolded lines that stuck out to me and/or that I will address toward the end.
During the summer of ’93, Smith attended a recreation program held a block from the Robie home. Derrick also attended the program. On Aug. 2, Derrick was ready to head out to the program, but his mother wasn’t ready to take him. “Normally, I would walk him to the end of the driveway, but Dalton that morning was very fussy,” recalls Doreen Robie. “Derrick says, ‘It’s OK, mom. I’ll go by myself.’ … He gave me a kiss and I said, ‘I love you,’ and he says, ‘I love you, Mom,’ and he went hopping off the sidewalk.” He had only a block to go, and no streets to cross. The park was on a dead-end street. “It was the first time I’ve ever let him go anywhere alone,” says Doreen Robie.
On Aug. 2, 1993, Derrick’s body was found in a small patch of woods, halfway between the park where he was headed, and his home. Evidence showed that Derrick was lured from the sidewalk and strangled. “He discovered and dug up one very large rock and one smaller rock. And he battered Derrick with those rocks,” recalls lead investigator Charles Wood. “He went into Derrick’s lunch bag and he smashed a banana and took Derrick’s Kool Aid, and he actually poured that Kool-Aid into the – that had been made by the large rocks. And he sodomized Derrick with a small stick that he had found.”
“At one point, he turned to me and he said he did it. I lost control,” said Smith’s mother, Tammy. “I asked him why, and why he did it. And he was just saying, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ And he cried.” The jury heard that as a toddler, Smith threw temper tantrums and banged his head on the floor. He had speech problems, he was held back at school, and he was relentlessly bullied. When he asked for help with his anger, his adoptive father did not seem equipped to give it to him. “He was really upset. He was crunching his fists and shaking and told me that ‘Dad, I need help,'” said Ted Smith. “I said ‘Hold it. When I got angry when I was your age, I just grabbed a bag in our barn and started beating on it until I was too tired to do anything else.’ “Then, Ted Smith said: “I heard a door shut, and I turned around and he was gone. And as I got to the window, he was coming back in the door and he was calm. And I looked down and I noticed his knuckles and his hands were kind of skinned up and bloody. I asked him what happened, and he said, ‘I hit the tree a couple of times.’ Seemed to be OK.”
When coming up for a parole hearing:
Smith has made the case that he is uniquely qualified to counsel bullied children, and one day sees himself as a forensic psychologist, doing research on children who kill. “You may think I’m a threat to the well-being of society,” says Smith. “And I can understand why you would feel that way. The fact is that I’m not. I’d be an asset to society.”
Full story here.
So, what is your opinion? Should minors be sentenced as adults? What is the age cut-off if minors should be charged as adults? Does it depend on the crime? Do you believe Eric has been punished enough for his crime?
I think what Eric did was horrendous and I also believe 13 years old is not a “child” mindset when it comes to this type of crime. If you read what exactly Eric did to Derrick, it truly seems as though he had some serious mental problems and needed psychiatric care. But would you think the same thing if it was an adult that committed this crime? It could be true that he has mental problems; it could also be just as true that he is simply a sociopath (there seem to be elements of both spur-of-the-moment, out-of-control rage and cold-blooded calculation). But a competent psychiatrist should be able to make that diagnosis. Since Eric has also gone through intensive counseling, it does appear that keeping him behind bars is done for the sake of Derrick and his family rather than society and legal justice that is supposed to be part of the foundation of this country, it seems that morality and emotions are taking precedence over justice and rehabilitating criminals into positive contributors to society.
The bottom line is that we are not sure how to treat children and minors in the criminal arena. It’s easy to point to the law for other issues such as statutory rape and other decisions that minors cannot legally make, but when a crime occurs, ESPECIALLY murder, that line is blurred because it is difficult to keep your emotions out of cases like these. If Eric’s psychiatrist/counselor does believe him fit to be among society, i think it is doing other troubled children and society as a whole a grave injustice to keep him imprisoned.