Robert first made headlines in 1998. While celebrating his eighth birthday at his home in Splendora, he was taken by three neighbors, tied to a tree, doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Little Robert was burned over 99 percent of his body- everywhere except his palms and the soles of his feet, but somehow he staggered home. Robert defied all odds and thanks to swift and intensive medical treatment, he survived, though horribly disfigured with years of surgeries and painful procedures ahead. His family later stated Robert said he was attacked by two adults and one child. The child they named was Robert’s former friend, 13-year-old Don Collins. The only known motive for the brutal attack was that he supposedly accused Collins of stealing fireworks from him.
Robert’s family said there was insufficient evidence to make a case against the alleged perpetrators. Although Collins spent six months in Juvenile Hall, to this day, no one has been fully prosecuted for the burning.
In the years that followed, Robert would make frequent hospital trips, spending excruciating months at a time anchored to a hospital bed. First, skin samples were taken from his uninjured areas and cultivated into larger patches that were eventually grafted onto his body. Later on, he required hip surgery to help him simply stand straight. Though blind in one eye, he was eventually so fatigued by the constant surgeries that he would later turn down offers to perform surgeries that might improve his vision.
All together, Robert had over 200 surgeries performed, totaling over $1 million in medical expenses. Luckily, most of the expenses were covered by donations to the family from various sources, and The Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, which specializes in burn treatment.
Last year, Robert learned he had yet another battle ahead when he was diagnosed with skin cancer. He died just weeks before his 21st birthday. Despite his limitations and challenges, Robert’s final years were filled with camping trips, vacations, and other happy times spent with his family. Even after learning of his terminal cancer, Robert’s family says he remained optimistic and unchanged.
Even though Robert Middleton was dying of cancer, he wanted to make a sworn statement. He had to relive the horrible crime. He also relived another equally shocking event.
"Where he’s told us in this deposition he was sexually molested by Mr. Collins two weeks before the incident at the very location it took place," attorney Craig Sico said.
With Robert’s final battle finished, his mother planed to begin a new one. Colleen Middleton says she would seek justice for her son. Before his death, Robert gave a deposition on his violent attack, which was used in court in pursuit of their very belated lawsuit.
Today, a jury in LaGrange awarded the family of Robert Middleton $150 billion dollars in damages. It’s the largest jury verdict in a personal injury case in U.S. history. In addition they awarded $370 million in actual damages.
Donald Collins who doused Robert with gasoline and set him on fire was the one that was sued. It is doubtful the Middleton’s will ever see a penny of it as Collins is serving time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for filing to register as a sex offender,Middletons attorney Craig Sico said.
Collins was named as a suspect in the Middleton case, but the statute of limitations ran out before he was charged. He did, however, serve time for the aggravated sexual assault of another 8-year-old child.
"If they had prosecuted him for what he did to Robert, everything he did afterwards wouldn’t have happened," Robbie’s mother, Colleen Middleton, said.
He said Montgomery County Sheriff’s Detectives interviewed Robert several times and neither time was Collins mentioned, just several other friends. Those times he was either drugged or between pain medications so they were discounted.
Pattillo, who at the time was with the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office and is now in private practice said then a reported confession was made when Collins was first arrested but there were problems with that also.
Pattillo’s philosophy at the time was that it was “better to let him go and get him in the future, than try him and lose it.”
According to District Attorney Brett Ligon they have no jurisdiction over this case as when it happened it was a juvenile case.
Another thing that never came out until Roberts final disposition was the possible motive for the incident.
“He (Collins) pulled down my pants and started raping me,” Middleton said. He said the sexual assault occurred about two weeks before he was set on fire and in the same wooded area.
Middleton also said, “Don grabbed me and turned me around and threw gas in my face,”
The family’s attorney Craig Sico who took this case pro bono said the purpose of the lawsuit was not for monetary gains, but to focus attention on Montgomery County’s failure to prosecute the crime. They want to prevent Collins from hurting any more children, they said.
Craig Sico said that Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has opened a cold case file on the incident and hopes that the jury’ decision will push the courts into prosecuting Collins for murder. Sico said he believes this to be murder in which there is no statute of limitations in Texas.
A lawsuit was first filed two years ago but was filed again and as a result the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office reopened the criminal case and confirmed in may they charged Collins in the 1998 injury to a child.
Collins was 13 at the time. Those charges were later dropped because of insufficient evidence. The Montgomery County attorney is now saying Collins faces the possibility of being charged with murder.
In 1998 an online guestbook was created. The link will take you to it.