At the age of eight, Robbie Middleton experienced a horrific incident in Splendora, Texas, where a 13-year-old neighbour tied him to a tree, soaked him in gasoline, and ignited the fuel. Miraculously, Robbie survived this brutal attack, but not without severe consequences: he sustained burns covering 99% of his body. His life thereafter was marked by extensive medical interventions. Tragically, at the age of 20, Robbie succumbed to cancer that developed as a direct result of the extensive burns he had suffered.

Robbie Middleton before and after the attack
Robbie Middleton before and after the attack

Don Collins, initially freed due to insufficient evidence, was ultimately convicted of murder and received a 40-year prison sentence. This verdict came after a reassessment of the case against him for his role in the attack on Robbie Middleton.

Who was Robbie Middleton

Born on April 30, 1991, in Humble, Texas, Robbie Middleton was the youngest sibling in a family of three children. He spent his childhood in Splendora, a quaint town situated roughly 35 miles northeast of Houston. Robbie was fondly known for his enthusiasm for outdoor activities like fishing and camping, often enjoying these hobbies with his family and friends. He was characterized as a joyful and extroverted young boy, always keen on bringing smiles to those around him through his humour and laughter.

Don Collins, who resided in the same trailer park as the Middleton family, was a 13-year-old neighbour of Robbie Middleton at the time of the attack. Collins had a known criminal background that encompassed charges such as burglary, theft, and assault. He was recognized for having a volatile temper and a history of engaging in various confrontations with other residents in the trailer park community.

Why did Don Collins harm Robbie?

The exact motive behind the attack on Robbie Middleton remains ambiguous, but it is speculated that Don Collins harboured a grudge against the Middleton family. In a significant deposition given before his passing, Robbie revealed that Collins had sexually assaulted him two weeks before the attack. Moreover, he disclosed that Collins had issued threats to end his life and harm his family if he ever disclosed the assault. This context suggests the possibility that Collins might have attacked Robbie to silence him and prevent any revelation about the sexual assault.

The Horrific Attack

On June 28, 1998, a harrowing event unfolded for Robbie Middleton in the woods near his home in Splendora, Texas, where he was viciously attacked by Don Collins. In this attack, Collins doused Robbie in gasoline, set him ablaze, and left him for dead. Displaying remarkable resilience, Robbie managed to crawl out of the woods to seek assistance, though he was gravely burned and deeply traumatized by the experience.

In an extraordinary display of maturity and strength, Robbie dedicated himself to supporting other burn victims. He raised funds for their benefit, provided encouragement to fellow patients, particularly girls in his ward, and astonishingly surpassed all expectations regarding his recovery, leaving everyone around him in awe of his spirit.

However, Robbie’s challenges continued as he was later diagnosed with skin cancer, a condition he believed was a consequence of the skin grafts he had received for his burns. With a sense of responsibility to protect others and reveal the truth, Robbie Middleton recorded a video testimony before his death in 2011, revealing that Don Collins, his attacker, had sexually assaulted him two weeks before the attack. This testimony was crucial in providing a motive for the crime, suggesting Collins wanted to silence Robbie. The prosecution used clips from this video during Collins’s 2015 trial, which significantly contributed to his conviction years after the assault. Robbie’s brave disclosure in the video ultimately led to justice being served.

In a poignant conclusion to his life, Robbie passed away in April 2011, just 17 days after making his deathbed confession and shortly before what would have been his 21st birthday. His courage in those final days continued to resonate deeply in the ongoing pursuit of justice and reform.

Investigation and Trial

Don Collins was initially apprehended and charged with aggravated assault. At that time, Robbie Middleton was still alive, so a murder charge was not applicable. However, in 2011, the case took a significant turn when Robbie heroically accused Collins of sexually assaulting him two weeks before the burning incident. This new and critical evidence led to a grand jury indictment, charging Collins with murder.

Don Collins
Don Collins

In 2014, Collins faced trial and was convicted of murder. He received a sentence of 40 years in prison. Despite this verdict, Robbie’s family felt that justice was still incomplete. They pursued further legal action by filing a civil lawsuit against Collins and his family. Despite his defence attorneys’ pledge to appeal the conviction, an appeal was rejected on March 29, 2017, and the 40-year prison sentence was upheld.

The lawsuit contended that Collins and his family were accountable for the attack on Robbie. In 2017, this legal battle was resolved, with Collins and his family agreeing to a settlement. They consented to pay $150 million in damages to Robbie’s family, marking a significant, albeit bittersweet, conclusion to their long quest for justice.

Despite his defence attorneys’ pledge to appeal the conviction, an appeal was rejected on March 29, 2017, and the 40-year prison sentence was upheld

Legacy of Robbie Middleton

Robbie Middleton’s tragic story has cast a spotlight on the issue of hate crimes and underscored the imperative for more robust legal protections for victims. In response to this need, “Robbie’s Law” was enacted in 2011. This significant piece of legislation mandates that individuals who commit crimes against children under 14 years of age are automatically certified to be tried as adults. The law, named in honour of Robbie, stands as a lasting tribute to his memory and a testament to the impact of his story.

In addition to legislative change, Robbie’s family has taken proactive steps to honour his legacy and support others. They established the Robbie Middleton Foundation, an organization with a dual mission. Firstly, it seeks to provide aid and support to children who have endured burn injuries, offering them the care and assistance they need in their recovery. Secondly, the foundation is dedicated to preventing future incidents of burn violence, working towards a safer and more compassionate environment for children. Through these efforts, Robbie’s legacy continues to make a meaningful difference in the lives of many.

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