HOUSTON – The prosecutor in the case of Robbie Middleton, the 8-year-old boy who was doused with gasoline and set on fire in 1998, explains why he let the case go.
Critics have been blasting authorities in Montgomery County about the horrific case. Middleton recently died from this injuries. He pointed to Don Collins, a teenage neighbor, who was charged, but then released.
Now for the first time, the prosecutor in charge of that case, Bill Pattillo, spoke only to KHOU 11 News about why he let the case go.
Someone doused Middleton with gasoline and set him on fire near his Splendora home on his 8th birthday.
“It’s the kind of case that defines your life,” Pattillo said.
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 names.
“That statement was patently impossible, but he was under trauma, in shock,” Pattillo said.
Middleton was also heavily drugged 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 on April 29, Middleton repeated the same thing.
“Don grabbed me and turned me around and threw gas in my face,” Middleton said.
But Pattillo said Middleton named others 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.”
Middleton‘s family believes there was enough evidence and now there may be more. In last month's deposition, he gave for the first time a motive for the attack.
“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.
“It’s tragic that statement didn't come out in 13 years,” Pattillo said.
In an unrelated case, Collins was later convicted in 2001 for the aggravated sexual assault of an 8-year-old boy. He is currently in prison for failure to register as a sex offender.
Middleton’s mother is pushing now for a murder investigation.
“I want Robert to be treated fairly. I want them to take it all present it to a grand jury and let them decide,” Colleen Middleton said.
Pattillo said he still hopes the attacker will be convicted.
“We wanted him. Yeah, I think about it. All the time,” he said.
Newspaper articles from shortly after the attack quoted Pattillo as saying Middleton had implicated Collins to authorities. Pattillo said he doesn't recall that and stands by his statements above.
Middleton's family has filed a civil suit against Collins for the burning attack. Click here to read their response to Pattillo’s explanation.