Friday, June 19, 2009

Child Murder

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.

16 jewels of thought:

Chanel said...

Wow that's a heart breaking case. I think that charging children/adolescents as adults should depend on the crime. And I hate that I think that. I know we should be consistent in our legal system, but it's hard to asses situations like this when some crimes are much worse than others...

karrie b. said...

ish out there is crazy meng. i really dont know Gem. there's a lot to consider. homie was mentally ill, so who's to say?

InnyVinny said...

I don't really know if you can draw a line at age. There are accidents and there is blatant forethought...take the kid in New England that plotted to take over his older brother's drug operation, killed him, and set the body on fire in a ditch. Sure he's "just a kid," but in that case, he should definitely be tried as an adult.

I guess it depends on the nature of the crime.

Wilfredo said...

It seems like Smith's father was into some kind of denial as to the mental condition of his son. This really wasn't that long ago, and people were more enlightened about certain abhorrent behavior than they were, say, 35 years ago. I hate to say this, but his father could've done so much more.

I do think that it's tragic what's happened to both boys, but I really can't seem to generate any sympathy for Smith's continued incarceration. What he did was far to heinous, and too little time has gone by. I'm only sorry that the prison system is only set up to punish and not rehabilitate, had that been the case, well... maybe.

Sheena said...

So, this is tough, but I think the thing to ask is "what is the purpose of the criminal detention centers in our country?". There was a time that the stated purpose was to rehabilitate criminals and for them to pay "penance" in a penitentiary; to earn society's forgiveness as they reformed themselves to productive citizens who pose no real threat. That purpose has been lost in our current system.
Our industrial prison complex serves only to punish, which does not help when many of those folks end up returning to the "free world" without having adjusted in any real way.
Because I HAVE to be that person, I'm going racial on this one, too. Would the question of parole even be an issue if Smith were Black? Black kids have been shuffled through the criminal system for eons, and it's only getting worse. Black children have their behavior criminalized more often than any other group. So, yes, I do think that there needs to be a shift in the way we handle children and crime, but I also think that we need to look at how it disproportionately impacts communities of color . Something can be said for doing away with the present prison system wholly, as it doesn't actually help society in any real way.
Check this out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1vajsBes0M

mrs. mary mack said...

Stories like this make me fear having children. Not everbody's home is run like yours. I fully belive that he should have been prosecuted as an adult. Relaesing a 29 year old who's been locked up this long will be even worse. I'm sorry if anyone is offended but I personally believe anyone who harms/kills a child should be harmed in the very same way. ugh! Sodomized a little kid?!! Terrible.

I was watching something this weekend about the kids in Jonesboro who shot up their school killing teachers and other students. Those freaks are out of prison already! If your little ass is big enough to carry a gun and execute such a mass-murder- you're old enough to stay in jail for the rest of your life. Sorry...got a little hot thinking about it. LOL

Stew said...

karrie sent me, and I must say that I am already hooked and this is the first of your posts I have read.

anyhow...

im not sure if this kid has shown any kind of remorse, so i would bet that that is the reason why they have not let him out yet. i do think that they should let him out to see how he does. it is not fair for them to keep him locked up like that, there is a possibility that he is "ok" now.

Qucifer said...

UGH! this was horrible, I don't know this one wouldn't have a happy ending either way, a kid that young and that goes on to do such savagery?? That Does sound a bit sociopathic and thing is those types (ted Bundy, columbine like) they just know how to properly switch it on and off so as to function in society so I don't think without numerous therapy and opinions that I'd dare set something like that lose in the world

ChocolateOrchid said...

Ooh girl! It's taken me a minute to comment on this. It's just such a horrific tragedy.

I don't know, Gem. I'm thinking that somewhere in his psych analysis, they've seen instances where they deem him "not well" to go back into society.

Caspar608 said...

First...
Why would a mother let a 4 year old walk somewhere ALONE.

Second...
If the murderer showed signs of mental problems, the parent is fully responsible for securing treatment for the child

Three...
The sodomy thing...I wanted to throw up.

I was sodomized by two teenage girls when I was 6 going on 7. No charges were filed. I guess my Mom didnt know how to handle it. One bitch is a lesbian now living with her girlfriends and the girlfriends teenage daughter. The other is a suburban Mom who has cheated on her husband repeatedly - with women.

Just recently, a Sunday school teacher in California was indicted for sodomizing, raping and killing a little girl. At first thought, people think "that fucking bastard, I hpe he rots...." But the murderer in this case was a WOMAN.

Crazy, right? I know women kill their own children all of the time...but seldom do you hear of a woman who rapes and sodomizes another girl.

Anyway, I am not sure if this man was rehabilitated. In my hear of hearts, I truly feel pedophiles and molesters CANNOT be rehabilitated.

Further, I would like to state for the record...I would gladly do a bid if anyone touched my children in an in appropriate manner. That kind of trauma lasts a lifetime.

Gem said...

Thank you everyone, for putting in your two cents. My main question is, in the justice system, where do you draw the line between a child and an adult? 13 years is clearly not an adult but it is definitely not a child either. I remember being 13. Hell, how many of us thought we were just too grown at 13? The details of the case combined with his age makes me think he was/is mentally ill. Now if that's the case, how do you deal with a mentally ill criminal? We've seen mentally ill criminals executed (who have no idea what is going on), etc. I have an uncle-in-law who allegedly molested another family member but it's this great big secret. You would never guess he would do that. So is all child molestation mental illness? If so, is it possible for rehabilitation?? If it is, how does that process even work?

I understand the parents wish to keep him imprisoned but it always give me pause to think of someone who committed a crime before the legal age of 18 but is tried as an adult through loopholes and will never get to improve himself. His parents are definitely responsible for a lion's share for not seeking help for him when signs were evident. This is not to say I believe he should be released, but I wonder what kinds of outreach programs prisoners can do. People, troubled teenagers, parents of teenagers who suspect something is seriously wrong, need to hear his story.

I guess I'm just one of those people who aren't satisfied with what they tell us. I would love to see his psych reports because it can't just be a moral issue to keep him imprisoned. At the same time, if the psych report is saying something is mentally wrong, are they not attempting to help, or like Cas said, is there no rehabilitation possible? I'm being redundant now, but there are just so many questions.

P.S. Cas, when I watched the video the distance from the house to his destination was pretty short, but he was FOUR YEARS OLD! I still don't understand. If the distance is that short, then as a mother you certainly shouldn't be too busy to walk him over there. I am so sorry you went through that. No charges were filed. Were they babysitting you? Did they ambush you? I don't mean to pry.

Caspar608 said...

Babysitters.

Ugh. Whenever I think about it I want to bash one of them (or both) in the head with a frying pan.

I told my Mom about it when the Grinch Who Stole Christmas was on television the year it happened. She didnt know how to react, but I remember going over to the girls house and questioning her.

Years, later, she was my BABY BROTHERS BABYSITTER. Of all the grand fuckery...

So when that Sunday school teacher killed the little girl (http://www.q13fox.com/news/nationworld/sns-ap-us-girl-in-suitcase,0,6567869.story) my Mom sat me down on the couch and told me how sorry she was that she didnt listen to me.

The babysitter never did anything to my brother. But can you imagine how hostile I was as a teenager that this bitch was watching my baby brother?

I just do not think little girls who are violated by women...are listened to the same way little boys are listened to when they are violated by men and/or women...

All that shit will change when I begin to write legislation and such.

Reggie said...

Wow!!! This was rather disturbing; and to think that I was looking to laugh just now.....I guess that I should have read something else.

I've always firmly believed in a consistent use of the death penalty....always. But sometimes, the lines are blurred; and that I suppose is why the death penalty is used in a biased way.

Seriously, I can see why anyone would look at this case and think that man should be locked up for the rest of his life, no matter how old he was when he perpetrated this crime.

My god!!!

Beverly said...

I don't think children, no matter how heinous the crime, should be locked up with adults. However, I do think it is very possible that this child, now man, is a sociopath. I wouldn't want him living in my neighborhood. Until a successful treatment can be developed for young, potential sociopaths, I think society needs to be protected.
Many children are mercilessly bullied, I was as a teenager, and yet it never would have crossed my mind to torture and kill a toddler, even at my angriest. If Smith is ever released, he should NOT be allowed to be around children, alone, ever. It is easy to behave when one is locked up and monitored 24/7, quite another to be out in society and free to discover he killed for the joy of killing.

linda said...

this scumbag wants to get out of prison !! he murdered that beautiful little boy and that heap of shit wants a second shot i would like to see him have a very slow and painfull death i would happily slit his throte with no remorse

Merci said...

Just watched a new show on this older story ("Killer Kids" on Lifetime Movie Network, Sept 8th, 2013). I've seen this story on several different shows over the years. It never ceases to sicken me, each and every time. Derrick was such a precious little boy! At the time of this writing, Eric will be eligible for parole again in 6 months (April of 2014). He argues that he will be an asset to society, because he will be able to help bullied children. He wants to be a forensic psychiatrist. Eric was originally diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. When I looked that up, Wikipedia said, "Treatment is attempted through both cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotropic medication regimens, though the pharmaceutical options have shown limited success." In other words, it just does not sound like there is a guaranteed cure for what ails Eric. He has been able to maintain his cool while in prison, which is very good, but that is in a very controlled environment. In trying to answer Gem's question, "My main question is, in the justice system, where do you draw the line between a child and an adult?", I don't believe there is a definite answer. I think it has to be answered on a case by case basis. The case where a child was playing with his father's gun and it goes off accidentally, killing his little sister is clearly different than Eric Smith luring Derrick Robie to his death in the woods. So things like intent, the presence (or lack thereof) of mental illness, whether or not there was sexual assault, prior records, etc. all have to be considered, as well as age. But then, how do you measure such evil?

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