Splendora, TX – Robbie Middleton, a 20-year-old man who had been struggling most of his life with burns sustained in a 1998 attack, taped a video just prior to his death in April 2011. In it, he accuses Don Collins, who was 13-years-old at the time of the incident, not only with setting him ablaze, but also raping him two weeks prior to the debilitating attack.
Middleton was celebrating his eighth birthday back in 1998, walking a forest path on his way to a friend’s house, when he encountered Collins, who allegedly tied him to a tree with fishing line, threw a cup of gasoline on his face, and lit him on fire. Middleton was able to free himself, but only after the heat of the blaze had melted the lines securing him. His burns, as you might imagine, were traumatic, leaving him permanently disfigured and without eyelids.
Though Collins was detained right after the attack, he was never formally charged due to a lack of evidence to make a conviction likely. Though there was no criminal case, Middleton’s family was eventually awarded $150 billion (that’s not a typo) in a civil lawsuit against Collins. That’s the largest civil lawsuit settlement in U.S. history. The December 2011 victory was really only symbolic, however, as the Middletons never expected to see a dime of it. They were really hoping that the award would pressure the county into trying Collins for murder.
It just so happens that Collins was in jail when the civil suit was going on, charged with failing to register as a sex offender, a label he acquired as a result of a conviction for sexually assaulting another 8-year-old boy in 2001.
Middleton did not speak much about the attack during the thirteen difficult years that followed it; years that included over 200 surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy. However, just prior to his death from a type of cancer doctors maintain can only be caused by complications from multiple skin grafts, he broke his silence in a videotaped sworn deposition. Since Middleton accuses Collins not only of the burning attack, but also with a rape he alleges occurred two weeks prior to it, the Middleton family’s attorney has been able to file a felony murder charge against Collins.
A charge of felony murder requires that the death be caused in conjunction with another offense. And, since it is believed that Collins was attempting to kill Middleton to keep him silent about the sexual assault, the charge applies.
The 27-year-old Collins, who was released from jail in September, will be tried as an adult, despite the fact that he was only 13 at the time of the crime against Middleton.