Montgomery County Attorney J D Lambright filed the State’s Petition for Discretionary Transfer against Don Willburn Collins, the 28-year-old individual accused of murdering Robert Middleton by setting him on fire in 1998. On Robert’s 8th birthday, he was doused with gasoline and burned over 99% of his body. At that time, Collins was 13 years old. Lambright stated that "under Texas law, adults cannot be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system, so we are seeking to have the Montgomery County Juvenile Court transfer jurisdiction over the case to District Court."
Despite his horrific burns, Robert survived until he died at Shriners Hospital shortly before his 21st birthday in 2011 from a cancer that medical experts attribute to the attack. In the years leading up to his death, Robert Middleton endured over 100 painful surgeries. Days before his passing, Robert disclosed new evidence concerning the crime.
Lambright said that "although I didn’t take office until January 1st of this year, my predecessor invited me to attend a meeting last fall to discuss this case. I concurred with the decision to re-open the case so that a full and complete investigation could be conducted in light of this new evidence. At the very minimum, I hoped to at least assure Robert’s parents that we had thoroughly reviewed the case."
Detectives with the Cold Case Division of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office re-opened their investigation in late 2012. Over the next 7 months or so, they located previously unknown witnesses and developed a considerable amount of new information regarding the heinous attack against Robert Middleton. A few months ago, the Sherriff’s Office turned over more than 50,000 pages of documents to the County Attorney’s Office. Lambright stated that "our Sheriff’s detectives have done an amazing job in investigating this 15 year old case and in organizing their findings". Prosecutors in the County Attorney’s Office have been reviewing these documents, while the Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Office continued a separate line of investigation into the case. Prosecutors are ready to move forward against Don Collins based on the evidence now in their possession.
Shortly after taking office this year, County Attorney Lambright met with Robert Middleton’s family and assured them that he would make every effort to seek justice for the 1998 attack that eventually killed their son. The County Attorney’s Office is now seeking to fulfill that promise, not only through the current pursuit of the murder charge in Montgomery County, but also by providing any and all support requested by the District Attorney of San Jacinto County, where Collins is scheduled to stand trial on October 7th for an allegation of failure to register as a sex offender. That charge stems from a 2001 case in which Collins, 16 years old at the time, was sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission for the aggravated sexual assault of yet another 8 year old boy a little over 2 years after Robert Middleton was set on fire. If found guilty, this will be Collins’ third conviction for failure to register as a sex offender.
At the invitation of San Jacinto County’s District Attorney, Lambright has agreed that he and both of his fulltime prosecutors will attend that trial and assist in any way possible to help secure the maximum ten-year sentence against Collins for that offense. "A few months ago, we assisted the San Jacinto DA in securing an indictment against Collins. Two weeks ago, we again met with the DA, and we are working closely with him in preparing his case for trial." At the conclusion of the case in San Jacinto County, Collins will be transported to the Montgomery County Jail to face charges for the burning and subsequent death of Robert Middleton.