HOUSTON — A request to move the trial of a Texas man facing a capital murder charge in a childhood attack on a boy who died nearly 13 years later was approved by a judge on Monday.
Authorities allege that in 1998 at age 13, Don Wilburn Collins doused Robert Middleton with gasoline and set him on fire on his eighth birthday. The attack occurred near the younger boy's home in Splendora, about 35 miles northeast of Houston.
Middleton endured years of physical therapy before he died in 2011, shortly before his 21st birthday, from skin cancer blamed on the horrific burns he suffered.
Collins, now 29, has pleaded not guilty in the case. He's currently jailed on a $1 million bond.
During a court hearing, state District Judge Kathleen Hamilton approved a request by Collins' attorneys to move his trial from Montgomery County.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors were expected to discuss their suggestions on where to move the trial during a court hearing Thursday.
E. Tay Bond, one of Collin's attorneys, said the intense publicity the case has received would make it very difficult for his client to get a fair trial in Montgomery County.
"I think the degree of shock as to what happened to Robbie Middleton has just created a fervor in the community where people have decided that Don Collins is in fact guilty of something and (they) would convict him just based on emotion instead of an objective review of the evidence or lack thereof in the case," Bond said.
Phil Grant, first assistant district attorney for Montgomery County, said he was not surprised by the judge's ruling but he doesn't expect the decision will move the start of the trial from Jan. 5.
"We're prepared to try the case wherever (the judge) transfers it," Grant said.
Collins was arrested shortly after the 1998 attack but was released after prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence.
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 and file a murder charge last year.
In March, Hamilton ruled Collins' case could be transferred from juvenile to adult court because prosecutors had been unable to proceed with the case before his 18th birthday, but that new evidence had been found since then.
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