DA considers charges against man suspected of setting boy on fire in '98

April 25, 2012 4:56:03 AM PDT
Fourteen years after someone set Robbie Middleton on fire, he died from cancer related to the attack. The case has now lead to a record $150 billion civil judgment.

And now, we've learned that Montgomery County is considering criminal charges, which is something Robbie's parents have been requesting for years.

While the Middleton family had somewhat of a symbolic verdict with that civil settlement, they are still waiting for a day in criminal court in Montgomery County. The mother of Robbie Middleton says after he died last year, it's the last piece of the puzzle.

"It's taught me the difference between a bad day and a really bad day," she said.

On his eighth birthday in 1998, her son Robbie was set on fire. He lived 12 years in pain, until terminal cancer from the burns were just too much.

"I'll always think about it and I'll always think what was the point of Robert living? All he did was suffer, suffer horribly and die," Middleton said.

It was a case that never made it to trial on the criminal side of the Montgomery County Courthouse. Questions weighed down the case from the statute of limitations; two men investigators looked at were already in prison and there were concerns with Robbie's health and ability to testify.

But he did his best to tell the horrific story in one last deposition just before he died in 2011.

In Montgomery County, the DA handles adult criminal cases. The county attorney handles juvenile criminal cases.

"The question is can you charge him as an adult for an action that he committed as a child over a decade ago," Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said.

If the Texas Attorney General grants the request, it would give Ligon the ability to pursue the case against the defendant, who was a teen at the time of the crime.

"Would it be important for a victim? I think it would always be important for a victim to have a day in court, I think it would be important for the family to have the case aired before a jury," Ligon said.

A Fayette County jury awarded the family $150 billion in a civil case last year and found Don Collins, a man already serving time for aggravated sexual assault of another boy, liable for Robbie's death.

"Now that Robert's not here, I worry that Montgomery County is going to feel like it's not worth the time and the effort because it's not going to change anything," Middleton said.

Middleton is about to face the first anniversary of life without her son. She says he always hoped to see justice. Now she will carry that forward.

"It's the last open-ended thing I need to do to get justice, then I think Robert can rest in peace and I can do something else with my life, move forward," she said.

A decision could be made by the Texas Attorney general in the next 120 days.

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