Smith's Candor at Parole Hearing Wasn't Enough to Win His Freedom

Article excerpt

Smith's candor at parole hearing wasn't enough to win his freedom

Eric M. Smith wanted the parole commissioners to know he respects life.

"I understand that your job is to make a decision based on whether or not I'm safe for society," Smith said during his recent bid for parole after serving 20 years for killing a 4-year-old boy.

"I'm not a threat," he said, "and the reason why I know I'm not a threat is because I value life."

"Not just mine, not just yours, not just these two ladies sitting in the room, but every single person I come in contact with," he said, according to a transcript obtained Wednesday by The Buffalo News.

It was not Smith's first crack at parole. Nor will it be his last. The three commissioners presiding over his hearing, who included former State Sen. Marc Coppola, chose to keep him in the Collins Correctional Facility because his crime was so brutal.

Smith, who is now 34 and serving a sentence of nine years to life behind bars, can try again in two years.

Smith was a child himself - a bullied 13-year-old - when he lured 4-year-old Derrick Robie into some woods in Steuben County. He choked him, bashed his head with a rock, sodomized him with a stick and hid the body.

"I completely understand that my actions in 1993 ... can never be changed and they were horrendous. They were violent, and they were very uncalled for and they were wrong," Smith told the parole board April 9. "I can't change that."

But the person he was at age 13 no longer exists, he said. "That child that I was that committed that crime, he's gone," he said. "He's never coming back."

Further, he wanted to assure the parole commissioners that 20 years of confinement did not harden him into someone unfit for society: "My institutionalization is not going to cause me to commit crime or rebel against the system. It's helped me to look at laws and regulations that society has and say, 'I can live up to these rules.'"

While in prison, Smith earned his general-equivalency diploma and certification as a residential carpenter and as an electrician.

He completed a sex-offender treatment program and a long-term therapeutic effort known as the Merle Cooper Program. He has gone without a disciplinary ticket since 2005.

He has a job and a living arrangement lined up if released.

Smith candidly answered every question asked about the murder of the young boy in July 1993. He recalled that he had been feeling rage at others - high school students, certain family members. For reasons he could not explain, he took it out on a random child.

"The way I looked at the world was everyone was against me, and I didn't trust anyone," Smith said.

But the boy - "He did not deserve that," he added. Smith said he only intended to hurt Derrick when he led him into some woods, then chose to kill him.

Coppola concluded the interview by telling Smith he was articulate and intelligent and presented himself well. But the parole commissioners must consider many factors, he added.

Some time later, they reached their decision.

"Your positive programming and clean disciplinary record since your last board appearance are both noted," their statement said. "However, neither of which diminishes the serious loss of life caused by your actions."

The panel concluded by saying, "discretionary release at this time is not appropriate. …