Jurors imposed a 40-year sentence on a Texas man convicted in a childhood arson attack on a boy who died nearly 13 years later. Defendant Don Collins was sentenced for pouring gasoline on then 8-year-old Robert Middleton, and setting him on fire. The event occurred in 1998, and prosecutors indicate it was meant to silence the boy after Collins sexually assaulted him.
Collins was convicted of capital murder, and his punishment was capped at 40 years because he was 13 at the time of the attack. The jury heard testimony that Collins was a troubled child, along with prior alleged sexual assaults.
Treatment of Juvenile Offenders
According to Texas Penal Code Section 8.07 a person may not be prosecuted for or convicted of any offense that the person committed when younger than 15 years of age, subject to exceptions. Subsection (c) of the same statute states that “no person may, in any case, be punished by death for an offense committed while the person was younger than 18 years.”
When the burning occurred in 1998, a juvenile had to be at least 14 years of age for a capital felony offense case to be transferred to adult court. In 1999 the law changed to lower than age 10. Prosecutors said the crime of murder did not occur until 2011, when the victim died. Experts determined that Middleton’s death from skin cancer was a direct result of the injuries he suffered in the fire.
Determining sentencing for juvenile offenders was approved by the Texas legislature in 1987 as an alternative approach to lowering the age at which a juvenile may be certified to stand trial as an adult. Originally the law provided that juveniles charged with capital or first-degree felony offenses may receive sentences as long as 30 years. In 1995 the legislature amended the length of sentencing to a maximum of 40 years.
In Texas, capital murder occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual and that individual in under the age of 10. The events that caused Middleton’s death occurred in 1998 after the legislature amended the punishment for juvenile offenders. Although the defendant was an adult when the sentence was imposed, because the crime occurred when he was a juvenile the sentencing for juveniles applied.
Adolescent decision-making is subject to immaturity, peer pressure and heightened attitudes toward risk. Adolescents make choices that are less responsible than those made by mature adults in similar situations. Although children may know right from wrong, their inability to consistently make responsible decisions makes them less blameworthy than adults. This is why criminal statutes reflect different punishments for children convicted of criminal offenses.
Of course, if a child is accused of a crime, it is important that his or her parents reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney. The lawyers at the Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates can assist clients throughout the Galveston area and mount a solid defense.