On August 2, 1993, thirteen year old Eric Smith did something horrible. Something unimaginable. He beat, sodomized, and killed a four year old boy. Public outrage followed. Then, shock erupted after the killer confessed. He was only thirteen.
Even though I didn't live near the town the crime occurred in, I remember the case. It caused headlines across the state. Like most of these brutal juvenile cases, it causes people to question the juvenile crime laws. Are they tough enough? Are they too focused on punishment? Not enough on rehabilitation?
The judge gave Smith a sentence of 9 to life. That means he had to serve nine years before he was eligible for parole. If he made parole, he would be on it for the rest of his life. Smith is up for parole again this year. He's 19 years into his sentence.
Smith claims his actions were a result of bullying. At the time, everyone thought bullying was something that every kid went through. In 2012, people are still fighting against that notion.
In New York the sentencing range for a juvenile offender convicted of murder is a minimum of 7 years to life in prison and a maximum of 15 years to life in prison. I tried a 15 year old two years ago in a murder case. He shot and killed a man during a robbery. He confessed, but said he only meant to hurt him. It went to trial because the defendant wanted the lesser charge of manslaughter. It didn't carry a life sentence. The jury agreed with his statement that he only meant to injure, not kill, when he shot the victim in the leg.
An interesting note in that case. When that defendant confessed, he was already in jail for another gun point robbery after the murder. At 15, his street nickname was "murder." The judge wouldn't let the jury hear about the new robbery or his nickname. A little too prejudicial, she said.
So, the question becomes, how long should Eric Smith stay in jail? He has already been in longer than most convicted murderers that are convicted at double his age. Should it be a true life sentence? Should he be allowed out? What about the victim who would be 23 now? What would he say?
Update - Eric Smith was denied parole again in 2014. He is eligible again in 2016.