Prosecutors Demur on Charges for Accused Rapist and Murderer

Posted December 29, 2011 in Criminal Law by

Prosecutors in the Robert Middleton rape/ murder case in Texas are hinting there is not enough evidence to bring charges against alleged attacker Don Willburn Collins, causing disbelief among lawyers for the Middleton family.

  • Alleged attacker to be freed next year after detention for unrelated charges
  • Former County Attorney says Middleton never named Collins, contradicting previous statements
  • Decision on murder prosecution has not been made

Boy Dies From Injuries, Still No Prosecution

“I can tell you if it can be properly and successfully be prosecuted certainly it would have been back then and it would be now,” Montgomery County Attorney David Walker said of the murder of Robert Middleton.

Burn victim Robbie Middleton

Last week the Middleton family won a record $150 billion civil judgment against Don Willburn Collins after their son died this year from complications of injuries sustained when he was tied to a tree, doused with gasoline and set on fire on his eighth birthday in 1998.

Robbie Middleton named Collins as his attacker after he was hospitalized, and maintained his accusation in a video deposition he made shortly before he died in April. In the deposition, Middleton added the shocking accusation that Collins had pulled down his pants and raped him two weeks prior to the gasoline attack.

Although Collins, then 13, was held in detention for six months after the attack, he was eventually released with no charges. Now 26, he is currently serving a prison sentence for failing to comply with sex offender registry requirements stemming from a sexual assault of a minor conviction unrelated to the Middleton case. He is eligible for parole in August 2012.

“An Extremely Difficult Case”

County Attorney Walker did not respond to requests for comment made by Lawyers.com last week, but he did speak to some other outlets and indicated pessimism that Collins would be charged with Middleton’s murder.

Attorney Craig Sico

“I will tell you the case is an extremely difficult case given the evidence that was discovered years ago and the nature of that evidence,” Walker said to the Associated Press. “Young Robbie was so traumatized and so damaged that information from him was very, very difficult to obtain.”

Walker described physical evidence as scant and inconsistent, telling the LA Times it was “not clear or necessarily compelling at that time.”

Those working on the behalf of Robbie Middleton were not pleased with Walker’s comments. “We are obviously surprised and disappointed to see that the current County Attorney would disparage the quality of the evidence when he allegedly is looking into an ongoing criminal investigation,” says Craig Sico, an attorney providing pro-bono work for the Middleton family. “We believe the County Attorney’s office is more concerned with its public appearance in this matter and less with the actual prosecution of Mr. Collins.”

Former Prosecutor Says Evidence Unreliable

Walker’s predecessor Bill Pattillo was the County Attorney in 1998 when the attack on Middleton took place. Pattillo made several statements this May to the effect that the case had been impossible to prosecute. “Robby had no memory of what happened – never,” he told the Montgomery County Courier. “I understand the need for justice – if there’s any way possible we could have done it back then, we would have.”

Robbie Middleton

“The physical evidence we had did not match the statements investigators had gotten from everybody,” Pattillo said. “It seems as though investigators were only able to collect a pack of lies from everybody they talked to.”

Two weeks later, the former prosecutor told local broadcast outlet KHOU-TV that Middleton never identified Collins. “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.”

Attorney for Family Disputes Prosecutor’s Words

Several news outlets reported 1998 court documents stating that two nurses and Middleton’s mother heard the boy say “Don did it” after he regained consciousness in the hospital.

Attorneys for the Middleton family also pointed out two 1999 news stories in which Pattillo was attributed saying Robbie’s account was “materially unchanged” from his statements immediately following the attack. “He’s very forthright about events of that day,” Pattillo told the Houston Chronicle, and spoke of plans to move forward with a grand jury indictment against Collins.

Mugshots of Don Willburn Collins

“You will note that the County Attorney spoke very well of the case, Robbie and the evidence near the time of the attack,” Sico says.

Patillo told KHOU-TV that he doesn’t recall any statements attributed to him that Middleton had implicated Collins.

Collins initially confessed to investigators to being on the scene when Middleton was attacked, but not to actually lighting the fire. Later, he retracted his confession, saying it had been made under duress.

Whether Middleton’s deposition combined with other evidence will be enough to convince prosecutors to bring murder charges this time around remains to be seen. “Depending upon the results of that further investigation, authorities here will make a decision about whether prosecution of Mr. Collins or anyone else is possible,” Walker told the LA Times.

Aaron Kase is a news reporter for Lawyers.com.

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