A young boy was burned so badly that he was left with physical and mental scars. The burns went through his body in the same way that the fire did. The fishing line that was holding him to a tree broke as he ran out of the woods. From the edge of the woods to a nearby street, Robbie Middleton made it. He then fell down in front of his parents and neighbors. It was planned to set the child on fire.
It was his eighth birthday that day.
The Middleton family went through a terrible event on June 28, 1998. The young boy was taken against his will to a nearby trail while he was trying to visit a friend and invite him to sleep over. He was tied to a tree, gasoline was poured on him, and he was set on fire. Without a doubt, everyone knew who did it. Still, he didn’t go to jail; the police only held him for a short time.
Middleton lived through the attack, but 99% of his body was burned. People in Splendora, Texas, saw the child fight bravely. According to the Houston Chronicle, he had over 150 surgeries and skin grafts all over his body except on the soles of his feet.
Dan’s 13-year-old neighbor Don Collins tried to kill him, but it took 17 years and the victim’s d*eath before justice was done.
It’s easy to see why the ordeal was hard for Middleton and his family. The child who was being targeted told police that Collins was to blame, but they didn’t give a clear reason. The terrible truth would not come out until much later in life. The prosecutors said they couldn’t get a conviction because there wasn’t enough evidence. Collins was charged, then let go, and he ran away to torture other people. He started abusing girls over and over again.
At the same time, Middleton kept going. Chron’s Harvey Rice wrote about how he became a local hero for other burn victims and fought for Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston to stay open after Hurricane Ike destroyed the building in 2008. He wanted to be a wildlife rehabilitator someday. He made it to his junior year of high school, but the effects of his assault made it hard for him to do so. Middleton got a rare type of skin cancer from all the grafts that were put on him, but his spirit never gave up.
Time began to catch up with the man, who was now 20 years old, after years of physical therapy and never giving up. While Middleton was sick, his family lawyer, Craig Sico, helped him record a sworn video deposition. Before he died in April 2011, he said again that Collins was to blame for the planned, violent attack. The taped statement also showed that Collins tried to kill Middleton to silence the younger boy for a rape that happened two weeks earlier in the same place. He wasn’t brave enough to tell his mom the truth, but he is said to have told his older sister two years before making the 27-minute video. The fact that the victim not only told everyone about what happened, but also said that Collins had raped his own cousin, showing that he was a repeat offender, shows how brave he was. After 17 days, Middleton died. His de*ath was ruled a m*urder because of the problems he had had his whole life. They filed a civil suit and begged for justice.
The accusation was backed up by Collins’ reputation and criminal record.
Collins abused more than one child over the years. He was known as a mean person in the area who killed kittens by stomping them to d*eath. Some people said that he bragged about what happened to Middleton to scare them into giving in. In 2001, when he was 16, he went to jail for raping yet another boy. This was added to other charges against him, like refusing to register as a sex offender twice, resisting arrest, and theft. After being locked up during the civil trial, the attacker was let out of jail in September 2011.
NBC said that the jury decided to give the family a substantial personal injury suit worth more than any other amount in American history. The court gave the family a huge $150 billion in the hopes that the money would lead to a criminal trial. They were supposed to get $370 million from Collins in actual damages, but they knew they would never get any of the money because the attacker clearly did not have it. The statement was all they could think about, and it grew bigger than any money could buy. With newfound interest in Middleton’s mur*der and a cold case unit being put in charge of it, everyone hoped for a successful prosecution.
Collins was finally arrested by investigators, which started his criminal case. Because of all the attention from the media, the case was moved from Montgomery to Galveston. Two other people who saw the sexually violent man included a boy who was 8 years old at the time and a girl who was 6 years old at the time. Collins told the boy that he would be burned like Robbie if he told anyone about the crime. Since then, the other girls he abused grew up and became adults, but they were still haunted by the times he had abused them. At the trial, more evidence showed that an older person had been at the scene of the fire with Collins. However, the identity of that person has never been found, even though they may have also been involved.
Collins didn’t show any emotion when the video confession was shown in court. USA Today says that while Middleton talked about what had happened to him in a very emotional way, he read the newspaper with his back to them.
On February 10, 2015, the jury came back and found the man guilty of capital mu*rder. Since Collins was a minor during the attack, the prosecution agreed to a maximum sentence of 40 years. This was the number that the courts chose so that the killer would be treated like an adult instead of a child who would get extra protections because of their age.
Collins’ defense team plans to launch appeals based on the legality of treating him as an adult rather than a minor, but Colleen Middleton, Robbie’s mother, is grateful for the win. She keeps her son’s ashes in an urn in the living room, where she hopes to one day be buried with him, again reunited in their final resting place. To Houston Chronicle’s Cindy Horswell, she said:
“I’m sick and tired of being sad all the time. This case has taken enough of my life.”
In the lobby of the burn center where Middleton got most of his care, there is a large plaque with a picture of him. Also, his birthday was made a holiday in the town of Galveston. The terrible cri*me seemed to ruin what should have been the happiest celebration for him, but the boy mostly kept his head up. In his last few weeks, he worried that he would go to hell because of all the pain he had been through that summer day, even though it wasn’t his fault. Middleton, a child with dreams, was thrown right into the path of the fire. As the fire went out and the embers began to cool, Collins got the right kind of moral punishment. Only the man who started the fire knows if the adult who was with him will ever be found out.