A Texas man who is accused of setting an 8-year-old boy on fire in his teens is going to be tried for murder -- more than 15 years later.
A state court judge ruled Thursday that Don Willburns Collins, 28, is eligible to be tried as an adult for a crime he allegedly committed as a 13-year-old. Although the victim, Robert Middleton, didn't die immediately from his burns, he died from skin cancer in 2011 which was "blamed on his burns," reports The Associated Press.
Collins' murder prosecution may force him to come to grips with a gruesome childhood crime.
Past Crime, Present-Day Charge
Complicated murder cases often take years after a victim's death to coalesce, so Collins' case isn't entirely unheard of. For murderers like Whitey Bulger, it took decades for prosecutors to try and convict him for his killings -- many of which occurred in the 1970s.
There is no statute of limitations for murder charges in Texas (or any other state for that matter), so Texas prosecutors are free to bring charges against Collins for murder -- no matter when the alleged act occurred.
The only problem is that Collins was a child when he allegedly doused Middleton in gasoline and set him ablaze; when Middleton died in 2011, Collins was already in his 20s.
Trying Juveniles as Adults
In Collins' case, a judge not only found that there was probable cause for prosecutors to try him for murder, but she found that he could be tried as an adult, the AP reports.
In general, defendants who commit crimes as juveniles can still be tried as adults if the crime is serious enough and state law allows it. Texas law allows adults who allegedly committed capital crimes (like murder) as children age 10 and above to be tried as adults as long as:
- The case hadn't been tried in juvenile court,
- The state received new evidence of the crime after the defendant's 18th birthday, and
- There is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime.
Collins' attorney argued that this law didn't apply to Collins, as it was passed one year after he allegedly set Middleton on fire, reports the AP.
But for now, it appears that Collins is headed to adult court for his crimes as a child.
- Ruling in '98 assault is 'tremendous victory' for Robbie Middleton's family (Houston Chronicle)
- Can You Expunge Your Juvenile Record? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Juvenile Incarceration Rate Lowest Since 1975 (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Juvenile Life Sentences Unconstitutional Without Parole (FindLaw's Decided)