HOUSTON – A Texas man was indicted Thursday for capital murder in a childhood attack on a boy who died nearly 13 years later from skin cancer blamed on the horrific burns he suffered in the assault.
Authorities allege that at age 13, Don Willburn Collins attacked Robert Middleton on his eighth birthday in 1998 near the younger boy's home in Splendora, about 35 miles northeast of Houston. Middleton was burned across 99 percent of his body and endured years of physical therapy before he died in 2011.
The grand jury's indictment Thursday came after a judge ruled in March that Collins' case could be transferred from juvenile to adult court.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said he hopes the case can be tried by the end of the year.
E. Tay Bond, an attorney for Collins, now 29, said there is no credible evidence in the case that would result in a conviction.
"I think the indictment for capital murder is a direct reflection of the desire that this community has to hold someone accountable for the tragedy that was bestowed upon Mr. Middleton," Bond said.
Collins, who is being held on $1 million bond, is set to be arraigned on June 19.
Bond said he plans to ask for a change of venue and will present evidence at trial of Collins' history of mental disability.
One point of contention is the maximum prison sentence Collins could face if convicted.
If Collins had been certified to stand trial as an adult when he was a juvenile, his maximum sentence would have been 40 years. The maximum term for capital murder as an adult is life in prison.
"We believe the full range of punishment is life," Ligon said.
Bond said 40 years should be the maximum possible sentence.
Collins spent several months in juvenile detention in 1998 after Middleton named him as his attacker. He 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.
Collins also faces a charge in neighboring San Jacinto County of failing to register as a sex offender.
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