On his eighth birthday he was tied to a tree, doused in petrol and set on fire.
The inferno left Robbie Middleton with third-degree burns to 99 per cent of his body. No-one expected him to survive.
But in a story of staggering courage, Robbie lived. He endured 200 operations and endless therapy to repair the burns.
Tragically, he was to die just weeks short of his 21st birthday from a cancer which doctors blamed on the original injuries.
After years of such terrible suffering, Robbie’s premature death was to have one positive outcome
In a harrowing 17-minute video made just before he died, he named the man he believed had torched him in Splendora, Texas, in 1998.
And he also claimed that he had been raped by the same person, a 13-year-old neighbour called Don Collins, two weeks before being set alight.
The terrible act was, Robbie alleged, a way of ensuring his silence.
His accusations have opened the way for Collins, now a 27-year-old convicted sex offender, to be charged with felony murder.
The charge is only made for a criminal offence which has happened in conjunction with another crime.
Montgomery County attorney David Walker is changing the charges in order to be able to prosecute Don Collins as an adult, despite the fact that committed the crime as a juvenile.
Mr Walker also hopes that the additional accusations of sexual assault will not only explain the torching, but also explain why it took so long for Mr Collins to be prosecuted.
‘It was done to prevent Middleton from talking,’ Walker told the Houston Chronicle. ‘It provides the bridge that we needed for the delay, rather than saying we didn’t have sufficient staffing or something else.’
Robert Ray ‘Robbie’ Middleton was celebrating his eight birthday in 29th April 1998 when he met his neighbour Don Collins on a wooden path near their homes in Splendora, Montgomery County.
Two weeks earlier, according to Robbie Middleton’s statement before his death, the pair had met in the same spot and Mr Collins, then 13, had overpowered the young boy and raped him. Now he wanted him silenced.
‘Don grabbed me by my shoulder and threw gas in my face, after that I don’t really remember anything,’ Robbie Middleton said in the video statement.
The Schulenburg Sticker reported that his mother Colleen said during the trial: ‘It was so hard to take in what my eyes were seeing.
‘All of his hair was scorched, and there was skin hanging around his ankles.
‘A little while later, I walked down to the tree where it happened. There was a perfect outline of Robbie’s body scorched into the bark of the tree.’
Don Collins was not prosecuted for the crime, although police statements reveal that he was held in custody after he made statements only a person at the scene could have made.
In 2001, aged 16, Don Collins was jailed for sexually assaulting an eight-year-old boy.
Robbie Middleton’s resulting third degree burns on 99 per cent of his body led the young boy spent most of his life in a specialist unit at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston.
The rehabilitation, which included over 200 operations and skin grafts, was excruciating, but his mother said he never gave in to self pity and anger.
The Schulenburg Sticker reported how one of the surgeons described how during the first few months at Shriners, the little boy suffered nightmares, convinced that he was being burned again.
But his haunted sleep was especially dangerous because if he moved about too much, he risked tearing his newly-grafted skin.
‘I grieved for a long time but after a while, Robert became the same happy-go-lucky child and life was good, life was liveable again,’ his mother Colleen told CNN in March this year.
Mrs Middleton said of her son’s decision to name Collins: ‘He did it because was afraid that Don might attack another child and that was Robert’s motivation for giving that deposition.’
Robert Middleton died from skin cancer in April 2011 shortly before his 21st birthday.
A medical examiner ruled that Mr Middleton’s death was a homicide as the particular type of cancer he suffered from can only come from enduring skin grafts for serious burns.
The 27-minute long statement was made from his hospital bed in which he accuses Don Collins of sexual assault.
As graphic pictures shown to the jury revealed the horrifying extent of the youngster’s injuries, many openly wept at the images.
His scorched skin was blackened, his eyelids had been burned off and his body looked like a charred patchwork.
A judge had to order that a box of tissues was passed around the jury box as members gasped at the extent of the wounds the boy had miraculously survived, the Schulenburg Sticker reported.
They heard how the boy had to routinely endure skin grafts, which were then cut away, to allow the boy’s bones room to grow as it was too inflexible to allow movement, before eventually being stitched up again, it was reported.
After each of the 200 operations, the Schulenburg Sticker reported how Robbie was ‘stretched’ by braces to try and give his skin a little elasticity.
Because of these prolonged periods where he was strapped to braces, he had to learn how to walk time and time again.
Colleen and her husband Bobby won a civil lawsuit against Don Collins in 2011, awarding them with $150 billion, the biggest settlement in U.S history.
Attorney Craig Sico says the punitive damage award is symbolic and the Middleton family, from Montgomery County, Texas, expects none of it will be paid.
At the time of the lawsuit Mrs Middleton told ABC: ‘I wasn’t expecting it to turn out as well as it did. We just wanted justice.
‘It tells me that they understood that he was a precious human being and he didn’t deserve what happened to him.’
Neither Collins nor any attorney appeared for him at the civil trial.
After filing murder charges in September, Montgomery County attorney David Walker has now dismissed in and filed a new charge of felony murder
Coleen Middleton has said she supports dismissing the murder charge for felony murder: ‘Our lawyers see this is a strategic move, one that is moving in the right direction.’
Reaad more: Dailymail