Investigators seek to charge suspect as adult after burned boy died years later

Robert Middleton, burned as an eight-year-old in 1998 died 12 years later in 2011 of cancer doctors attributed to his burn injuries
September 17, 2013 3:00:41 PM PDT
There are new developments in a case we've followed closely for more than a decade. Authorities say they're now a major step closer to finding justice for the victim of a horrific attack.

For years we've followed Robert Middleton's story. He was the victim of a brutal crime -- tied to a tree and set on fire, and now investigators say they know who is responsible.

It's been 15 years since that horrific crime. The suspect who was a teenager at the time was never tried. But prosecutors now want to try him for murder.

For one of the first time since her son was savagely burned at his own birthday party, Colleen Middleton says she is looking forward to something

"We're ecstatic, but we're ecstatic because it's closure," she said. "We don't really expect justice, because he'll never be punished as much as Robert suffered."

Robert was eight years old in 1998. Investigators say he was tied to a tree, doused with gas and burned over 99 percent of his body. Investigators wanted to try then 13-year-old Don Collins for the crime but couldn't find enough evidence.

Robert lived 12 years in pain, dying in 2011 of cancer that doctors attributed to his burns. In Robert's final days he revealed that Collins had allegedly sexually assaulted him about two weeks before that attack.

Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright said, "To our knowledge, he had never said that before. I don't know if that was because of shame, embarrassment -- I don't know why."

The Montgomery County Sheriff's cold case squad reopened the case, collecting more than 50,000 pages of new evidence, including at least one eyewitness who told them Collins confessed to the attack in the years since.

"We feel pretty good that the judge will certify this case and move it over so he can be tried as an adult," Lambright said.

A civil jury awarded Middleton's family $150 billion after finding Collins liable for Robert's death.

Collins has served time for the sexual assault of another eight-year-old boy. In coming weeks, he will be tried in San Jacinto County for allegedly failing for a third time to register as a sex offender since serving his sentence.

Robert's mother says it's important Collins is tried in this case so that he doesn't get the opportunity to hurt anyone else.

"That was (Robert's) biggest worry, that Don would attack another child, and they would have to go through what he went through," Colleen said.

A hearing is set for next month at which a judge will decide if there is enough probable cause to let prosecutors try Collins as an adult for murder. If the judge says no, the case goes away. There would be no other criminal charges related to Middleton's death.

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