The burning death of Robbie Middleton

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Photo of Robbie Middleton when he was 7-years-old

Robbie Middleton was a child from Montgomery County, Texas. It was 1998 and he was excited about his upcoming 8th birthday. Sadly, that same day as he left his Splendora home he was forced into a wooded area, tied to a tree, sexually assaulted and tortured. His attacker then doused him with gasoline and set him alight.

Robbie lived when the flames stopped, but by this point he was left with blackened skin, burned-off eyelids, and third degree burns on 99 percent of his body. He was non-recognizable and spent the remainder of his life in a specialist unit at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, TX.

His rehabilitation included over 200 operations and skin grafts, was excruciating and he cried every minute of it but his mother said he never gave in to self-pity and anger.

The surgeons described how during the first few months at Shriners, the little boy suffered nightmares and would wake up screaming in terror, convinced that he was being burned again.

In 2011,  after thirteen years of terrible suffering, Robbie’s premature death was to have one positive outcome.

In a harrowing 17-minute video (although some reports claim it was a 27 minute interview) made just before he finally succumbed to his wounds, Robbie, then 20, named his childhood neighbor Don Wilburn  Collins then 13, and a known trouble maker, as the person he believed was responsible for torching him. He also said that two weeks prior to his birthday attack, Collins had raped him.

Collins already had a history and a bad reputation. In 2001 he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of an 8-year-old child. This case is not related to Robbie’s case. He was sent to prison but released shortly after. He was then sent back to prison for failure to register as a sex offender however, he was released again on September 5, 2011.

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Mugshot photos of Don Collins

Collins was never charged with Robbie’s sexual assault and murder which caused outrage among the community.

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Photos of Robbie Middleton after the horrific attack

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Robbie succumbed to his injuries on April 29, 2011 from a type of cancer which can only occur as a result of complications from skin grafts for third-degree burns. He was twenty years old.

In a 2011 interview, Bill Pattillo, who was the prosecutor of the case spoke only to KHOU 11 News about why he let the case go.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s detectives interviewed Middleton at Shriners Hospital in Galveston and later at the Middleton’s home.

“Both times we got nothing that mentioned Don Collins,” Pattillo said. “He mentioned other names; the names we felt like were just some of his friends.”

Pattillo said Robbie gave five or six different suspects.

“That statement was patently impossible, but he was under trauma, in shock,” Pattillo said.

Robbie was also heavily sedated and had to be interviewed in between doses of pain medication. Investigators discounted that interview.

To family, the media, and in a deposition made just days before he died Robbie repeated the same thing.

“Don grabbed me and turned me around and threw gas in my face,” Robbie said.

But Pattillo said Robbie named other potential suspects to authorities.

He said he had not made that statement before in 13 years “because it could injure the case.”

If the case had gone forward prosecutors would have been duty bound to share that potentially damaging information with the defense.

11 News also asked about a confession 13-year-old Collins had reportedly made while in custody.

“He did” Pattillo acknowledged, but added “there were problems with it.”

Pattillo’s philosophy was that it was “better to let him go and get him in the future, than try him and lose it.”

“He (Collins) pulled down my pants and started raping me,” Robbie said. He said the sexual assault occurred about two weeks before he was set on fire and in the same wooded area.

“It’s tragic that statement didn’t come out in 13 years,” Pattillo said.

In a civil lawsuit against Collins held in December 2011 a Texas jury awarded the Middleton family $150 billion. One of the biggest settlements ever awarded. The award was largely symbolic and the parents don’t expect to ever see any money. According to the Schulenberg Sticker, the family hoped the verdict would pressure the county into prosecuting Collins for murder.

Robbie Middleton’s accusations have opened the way for Collins, now a convicted sex offender, to be charged with felony murder 14 years after the incident. Murder charges were filed against him after his September 2011 release charging him as an adult rather than a juvenile.

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Robbie Middleton (28 June 1990 – 29 April 2011),