Judge: Texas man can be tried in childhood crime

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 6, 2014 at 9:07 pm •  Published: March 6, 2014

Collins was convicted in a separate case of sexually assaulting another 8-year-old boy. Now an adult, the victim testified this week that Collins had threatened to burn him if he told anybody what happened.

Collins' attorney, E. Tay Bond, questioned the reliability of Middleton's statements, as well as secondhand statements from other witnesses.

"There is no physical evidence that links Don Collins to this case," Bond said. "There are no eyewitnesses."

Bond also argued that the case should not be transferred to adult court because in 1998, a juvenile had to be at least 14 years old for a capital felony offense case to be transferred. The law was changed in 1999 to lower that age to 10.

Prosecutors said the murder didn't take place until 2011, well after the law was changed.

Once the trial concludes, Collins could appeal Hamilton's ruling and any conviction in Middleton's death.

Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright called the ruling a "tremendous victory" for the Middleton family. He said the prosecution will now be turned over to the county district attorney's office, which will work to indict Collins. Lambright's office is responsible for matters involving juveniles.

Prosecutors said they believe their work to transfer a case under these circumstance is a first for Texas. Legal experts say they have not heard of a similar case before.

Some legal experts say prosecutors will have difficulty convicting Collins of murder and preventing the decision to transfer the case to adult court from being overturned on appeal.

Grant Scheiner, a Houston criminal defense attorney not involved in the case, said the biggest hurdle for prosecutors will be linking Middleton's death in 2011 from cancer to the attack in 1998.

"I think (prosecutors) are going to face an uphill battle here," Scheiner said.

Collins, who is being held on a $1 million bond, will remain jailed. He also faces a charge in neighboring San Jacinto County of failing to register as a sex offender.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70