Prosecutors push for adult certification in boy burned case

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Prosecutors are hoping to convince a judge the person accused of setting fire to Robert Ray Middleton back in 1998 should stand trial as an adult.

Don Willburn Collins, 28, is accused of tying Middleton to a tree and setting him on fire to cover up sexual abuse.

Collins was 13 years old at the time Middleton was set on fire, and he must be certified to stand trial as an adult before the case against him can move forward.

"If Don Collins is not certified to stand trial as an adult, he will never stand trial on this case," said Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright. "The law is very clear in Texas -- you cannot prosecute an adult in juvenile court."

Prosecutors with the Montgomery County Attorney's Office spent part of Tuesday calling on witnesses who claimed to have heard Collins confessing to attacking Middleton.

"He had said that he had done it, that he had tied him up and burned him," Sandra Holloman testified.

Prosecutors also called a man to the stand who said Collins sexually molested him as a child after the attack on Middleton.

Local 2 is not identifying this man because he is the victim of a sex crime.

"He told me and a friend of mine that if we told anybody we would burn just like that other boy," the man told the judge.

This testimony follows other witnesses who also told the court they heard Collins confessing to the attack.

Even though Middleton was catastrophically burned in 1998, he did not die until 2011. However, prosecutors argue that since Middleton died from a specific type of cancer caused by his injuries, it was still murder. 

In fact, prosecutors produced Middleton's death certificate, which listed his cause of a death as "homicide."

Prosecutors said years passed before Middleton healed enough physically and mentally to formally accuse Collins of sexually abusing him and setting him on fire.

Collins' attorneys argue the law at the time Middleton was attacked prohibited children under 14 years of age from facing trial on capital offenses in adult court.

Collins is charged with murder and if convicted he faces a possible sentence of up to life in prison.

A judge is expected to rule this week on whether Collins can stand trial as an adult.

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