MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas—The man accused of setting an 8-year-boy on fire, eventually leading to his death, pleaded the Fifth Wednesday in a hearing at a Montgomery County courthouse to determine if he will stand trial as an adult for murder in the case. The case wrapped up and now a judge must decide his fate.
"We very badly want justice," said Colleen Middleton, the victim's mother. "We don't like our child to be treated like he's worthless and that's exactly how we felt."
Authorities say Don Collins doused his neighbor, Robbie Middleton, with gasoline and lit him on fire in 1998. Collins was 13 years old then and is just now going to trial for Middleton’s death. It's the first time the victim's family has been in the courtroom as the accused killer. Wednesday Collins took the stand, but refused to testify based on advice from his attorney.
"I see him and I think he ruined his life," said Middleton. "That is sad because he was so young."
The horrific crime happened on Robbie’s eighth birthday. Ninety-nine percent of his body was burned, but Robbie survived the attack only to die of skin cancer 13 years later. His death was linked to the severe burns sustained that day.
“I had never seen someone so burned, but still alive,” said one of the paramedics who treated Middleton that day.
Collins is now charged with murder. Prosecutors said new evidence surfaced shortly after Robbie’s death. The victim said that Collins burned him to keep him quiet after sexually assaulting him two weeks prior to the attack.
“It was always Don,” said Robbie’s mother. “No doubt in his mind, it was always, Don. Until the day he died.”
Collins’ attorney says because his client was 13 at the time of the alleged crime, he should not be tried as an adult.
“The state’s investigation was thorough then,” said attorney E. Tay Bond. “They did not have enough evidence then, and they don’t have enough to go forward now.”
Judge Kathleen Hamilton is expected to make a decision Thursday at 8:30 in the morning. Middleton says she's confident they will get the decision they've been waiting years to hear.
"I really feel she'll rule in our favor," said Middleton. "She doesn't want to be the one responsible for letting him loose."
If the judge rules to transfer Collins to adult court and if he's later convicted, it could open the defendant to up to 99 years in prison.