Trial opens for Texas man accused of setting child on fire

AP News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2015 8:22 PM

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Jurors in a Houston-area man's capital murder trial heard from a doctor Tuesday that the 8-year-old boy the man is accused of setting on fire needed daily operations for months to treat his severe burns.

Twenty-nine-year-old Don Collins was 13 when prosecutors say he doused the child with gasoline in 1998 and lit him on fire in Splendora, northeast of Houston.

Robert Middleton was burned across 99 percent of his body and endured years of physical therapy before he died in 2011 from skin cancer blamed on his burns. A judge determined in March that Collins could be tried for murder as an adult, despite being a teenager at the time.

Defense attorneys said in a Galveston County courtroom Tuesday that there were no witnesses to the attack and prosecutors are playing to the jury's emotions.

"Do not expect the defense to bring an eyewitness to this tragedy because there is not one," the Houston Chronicle reported attorney E. Tay Bond as telling jurors. "There are no witnesses from the woods except for Robbie."

But prosecutors countered that witnesses will testify that Collins admitted to them that he poured gasoline on Middleton as the boy walked through woods near his home, according to the Chronicle.

"Our case is based on the testimony of adults who have come forward and can tell you what this man did when they were children," Montgomery County prosecutor Kelly Blackburn said in his opening statement.

Middleton named Collins as his attacker and the older boy was arrested in 1998. Collins spent several months in juvenile detention but was released after prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to pursue the case.

Shortly before he died, Middleton gave a videotaped deposition in which he accused Collins for the first time of sexually assaulting him two weeks before the attack. The sexual assault allegation prompted investigators to reopen the case. Prosecutors charged Collins with murder in 2013, but they needed to move the case from juvenile to adult court to take him to trial.

After a three-day hearing last March, state District Judge Kathleen Hamilton ruled that Collins could be tried for murder by an adult court.