HOUSTON – A young man who was doused in gasoline and set on fire as a child has died and his family is hoping his death will provide a second opportunity at justice.
Robert “Robbie” Middleton passed away last week from skin cancer. Ironically, it developed because of the skin grafts that saved his life in 1998 when he was burned over 99 percent of his body.
Back in 2009, Robbie Middleton told KHOU 11 News that a 13-year-old neighbor attacked him when he was 8 years old.
“He grabbed me by my shoulder and threw gas in my face, after that I don't really remember anything,” Robbie Middleton said during the interview.
Middleton’s funeral was Sunday. His mother chose a dozen photos for the service, each a reminder of a good day.
“The bottom one, he is wearing a Channel 11 shirt,” Colleen Middleton said as she pointed to one snapshot.
Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston specializes in treating burn patients and took care of Robbie Middleton until the end.
Doctors knew the skin grafts grown in a lab would leave Middleton vulnerable to cancer, but they were his only hope back in 1998.
“This skin is fragile and it easily breaks down,” said Chief of Staff Dr. David Herndon. “It's a burn-scar cancer.”
Robbie Middleton understood what this meant and that he was dying, his mother said.
“As sick as he was as much pain as he was in, he had forgone pain medication because he wanted to make sure he could give a deposition,” she said.
What does the Middleton family hope to see on the official death certificate?
“Homicide. He was burned 13 years ago, it took him 13 years to die,” Colleen Middleton replied without hesitation.
As for the original assault case, the statute of limitations ran out while Robbie Middleton was recovering.
The Middleton, the Montgomery County authorities were not aggressive enough with the teenage suspect after Robbie was burned.
“He was never charged. They told us there was not enough evidence,” Colleen Middleton said.
The suspect in Middleton's case was later charged with a sex offense in an unrelated case. He is now in prison for failing to register as a sex offender.
In many ways Robbie grew up at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston. His family guesses he had 150 surgeries or more in his short life. He died at the hospital Friday with his whole family.
“He was a child of ours … he came to cancer and he came to death with courage. He's a hero,” Dr. Herndon said.
The Middletons said they have no regrets about the skin grafts.
“My choices were he was going to die that night, or I could get 13 years,” Colleen Middleton said.
In 1998 they had refused a priest to administer last rites. Last week she called for a priest.
Was she ready this time?
“Robert was ready,” Colleen Middleton said.