On Robert Middleton's eighth birthday, he was tied to a tree, doused with gasoline, and set on fire.
Middleton didn't die that day in 1998; instead he suffered burns over 99 percent of his body, went through more than 100 surgeries, and lived until 2011 when he died of cancer that doctors attributed to his burns.
Now, 15 years after Middleton was attacked, a suspect has finally been charged with first-degree murder, notes KTRK-TV in Houston.
But the case against Don Collins, 28, might get thrown out before it goes to trial. Why?
"The case is still in juvenile court," Montgomery County (Tex.) Attorney J.D. Lambright tells KTRK, adding that if a judge doesn't allow Collins to be tried as adult, the case is over.
Collins reportedly made a confession as a 13-year-old when he was in custody, according to KHOU-TV in Houston, but the prosecutor in 1998, Bill Pattillo, said "there were problems" with Collins' confession. Collins, then a next-door neighbor of Middleton, admitted he was at the crime scene but claimed others were involved, notes KPRC-TV in Houston.
Former prosecutor Pattillo told KHOU in 2011 that it was “better to let him go and get him in the future, than try him and lose it.”
TheBlaze reached out to Pattillo, who now runs his own law office in Conroe, Texas, for more information but has not heard back from him.
KHOU also notes that before he died in 2011, Middleton implicated Collins: “Don grabbed me and turned me around and threw gas in my face,” Middleton stated in a deposition, adding that two weeks before in the same wooded area, “He [Collins] pulled down my pants and started raping me.”
Collins allegedly sexually assaulted other young kids and even threatened to burn one of them if he told anyone about the sex assault, according to prosecutors, KTLK says.
Collins was convicted in 2001 for the aggravated sexual assault of an eight-year-old boy — a case unrelated to Middleton's — and was in prison in 2011 for failure to register as a sex offender, according to KHOU.
The Middleton case is described by KTRK as having gone cold for 15 years, with Lambright adding that "cold case detectives have spent about seven to eight months now investigating this case."
TheBlaze contacted Lambright's office for further information but has not received a reply.
When the Middleton case was reopened in 2012, detectives said they discovered previously unknown witnesses and produced more than 50,000 pages of documents incriminating Collins, KPRC says.
Collins' attorney, E. Tay Bond, tells KTLK it will be "very hard for Mr. Collins to get a fair trial. Of course, we don't know if he can even get a fair trial."
Colleen Middleton, the victim's mother, is unmoved. "Wherever he turned, there we're going to be be, no matter how long it takes," she tells KTLK.
"It was hard to watch him to suffer and die. That was especially hard," she says of her son. "I felt like Robert died feeling as if he didn't matter."
Here's a report from KPRC-TV in Houston:
Here's the 2011 KHOU-TV report: