Craig Sico and Clif Alexander obtained a $150 Billion verdict for Middleton Family
(click to enlarge photos)
Robbie Middleton and Family
Don Wilburn Collins
MIDDLETON V. COLLINS
Colleen and Bobby Ray Middleton, Individually and as Representatives of the Estate of Robert Middleton, have finally had their day in court. A civil claim was filed in La Grange, Texas in 2009 stemming from the rape and burning in 1998 of then eight-year-old Robbie Middleton. He would later die from a rare form of skin cancer directly attributable to his burns in April of 2011. On Monday, December 19, 2011, the case went to trial at the Fayette County Courthouse. A jury evaluated the actions of Don Wilburn Collins and the pain and anguish he inflicted upon the Middleton family and returned the largest verdict in United States History – $150,370,000,000.00. The Middleton family will likely never recover anything from this judgment – the reason the Middletons filed a civil action against Mr. Collins is because the County Attorney for Montgomery County, Texas has refused to charge or prosecute Collins for the rape and murder of Robbie Middleton. The Middletons hope the verdict in the civil action will stir a public outcry and pressure Montgomery County to finally file criminal charges and prosecute Don Wilburn Collins for this terrible crime.
PLEA FOR JUSTICE
Craig Sico and Clif Alexander of Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P. in Corpus Christi, Texas represented the Middleton family in this matter pro bono. The firm agreed not only to represent Robbie Middleton and his parents without charging or accepting a fee or sharing in any recovery they might receive, but also financed the litigation process by paying for necessary document discovery, depositions of doctors, nurses and police officials, as well as all expenses associated with trial.
The Middleton family does not expect to receive one dollar from Don Wilburn Collins based on the verdict. Rather, the purpose of this civil litigation was to do the job of the County Attorney by amassing and preserving the evidence necessary to convict Don Wilburn Collins for the rape and murder of Robbie Middleton.
To date, no substantive action has been taken by Montgomery County to prosecute Don Wilburn Collins, even though substantial evidence has been established that Collins did in fact set Robbie Middleton on fire with the intent to kill him two weeks after he brutally raped him in the woods near their homes. From the day of the attack, Robbie steadfastly identified his attacker as “Don” Collins, but no prosecution has occurred. The only official action taken has been the opening of a cold case file by the Montgomery County Attorney after receiving subpoenas in this civil litigation requesting that the evidence be disclosed to the Middleton family. Opening a cold case file legally permits Montgomery County officials to deny sharing their evidence with the Middleton’s and the public. At this time, the Middleton family does not know whether Montgomery County will ever prosecute Mr. Collins or will simply continue to deny them justice.
It is the sincere desire of the Middleton family that Montgomery County listen to this outcry, finally provide justice to Robbie and protect the community at large from Don Wilburn Collins. Mr. Sico has offered to act as a special prosecutor should Montgomery County wish to include him so that he may bring the evidence before a jury, and let a jury decide the fate of all those involved, rather than a few officials huddled in darkness refusing to disclose the truth.
MIDDLETON CASE HISTORY
Robbie Middleton lived with his parents, Colleen and Bobby Ray, his brother Clint, and his sister Heather, in Splendora, Montgomery County, Texas. Like most children, Robbie Middleton was happy, unassuming and well liked in the community. As it oftentimes happens, young Robbie had to deal with a bully who lived next door named Don Wilburn Collins. At first, Collins caused trouble and intimidation for the Middleton children. Eventually, Collins’ level of intimidation grew to the point where he raped Robbie in the woods near their house on or about June 14, 1998. Don threatened Robbie that if he told anyone, he would hurt him again. Robbie carried the weight of this horrible act on his seven-year-old shoulders alone.
Two weeks later, it was to be a day of joy and celebration for Robbie on his eighth birthday – June 28, 1998. Robbie waited with excitement for his uncle to join him on this special day. After celebrating with family and friends, Robbie started down a trail that he had traveled hundreds of times before to visit a friend. He never made it. Don Wilburn Collins ambushed Robbie and threw a cup of gasoline in his face blinding him. Collins then tied Robbie to a tree, poured gasoline over him, and lit him on fire. The restraints used to bind Robbie were not carefully crafted and he was able to break free and run home though the woods, his body engulfed in flames, crying and screaming. Robbie made it to the edge of the woods. Charred black and unrecognizable by his family, Robbie suffered third degree burns to over 99% of his body. A small area on the top of Robbie’s foot was spared – this would ultimately save his life.
Robbie was transported by helicopter to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston and then to Shriners Burn Hospital for Children in Galveston. As eight-year-old Robbie Middleton lay on a cold metal table, the skilled doctors and nurses at Shriners knew exactly what needed to be done in order for Robbie to survive. Each appendage and section across his torso would need to be sliced open so that the swelling in his body would subside. At this moment, Robbie was charred beyond recognition and cut open on a table from head to toe. He was vulnerable at a level very few people have experienced, much less survived.
Drs. David Herndon and Robert McCauley, two of the most respected burn surgeons in the world, testified that Robbie’s burns were the worst they had ever seen.
The miracle workers at Shriners offered a new procedure in grafting that had rarely been used before. This form of grafting saved Robbie’s life, but left him horribly disfigured and impaired.
In a procedure called debridement, all of the dead tissue on Robbie’s charred body had to first be scraped off. Robbie’s skin was removed in a series of fifteen different operations, and he was then covered with skin that had been donated from other people – cadaver skin. This was skin from people who donated, at the time of their death, a thin shaving of their outer skin, which was frozen at the hospital and then used in future transplants.
In the first operation, the doctors took the small patch of normal skin that Robbie had left on his foot, and sent it to a laboratory to grow that small piece of skin in tissue culture. Six weeks later, the doctors were able to successfully remove the cadaver skin that had been grafted onto Robbie’s body and then introduce the tissue culture grown skin.
In total, Robbie would go from his room in the intensive care unit to the operating room almost every week during the first five months he was at Shriners where the doctors would remove cadaver skin, clean infected wounds, apply more skin from the cadavers, and eventually cover his entire body with skin that was grown in tissue cultures.
The debridement procedure was unimaginably painful. In addition to Robbie having the skin scraped from his little body for months, he was also stripped of the new skin each day in an attempt to save his life. Robbie endured over one hundred surgeries.
The Middleton family had their lives changed forever that day in June of 1998. They would spend the next thirteen years reliving the horror and fear of their son and brother being attacked and set on fire, having to move from their home after being stalked by Don Wilburn Collins, and having to deal with the greatest injustice of all – Montgomery County’s failure to seek justice. It was thirteen years of living hell.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TEXAS
In the beginning, Montgomery County officials boasted about the case they were mounting against Don Wilburn Collins. Statements were made to the press about the quality and substantive nature of the evidence that would surely place this monster behind bars. It was initially believed that Robbie witnessed Collins rape another young boy, Collins’ five-year-old cousin. Not once did anyone from the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office speak with Robbie Middleton about this heinous crime. Instead, charges against Don Wilburn Collins were dropped and he was allowed to go free and continue to terrorize other young children. It was not until Robbie was on his deathbed and testified in his deposition what everyone had feared – Don Wilburn Collins raped Robbie two weeks before he tried to kill him.
DON WILBURN COLLINS
Don Wilburn Collins was eventually convicted at sixteen years old for the aggravated sexual assault of another eight-year-old boy and served four years at the Texas Youth Commission in Brownwood, Texas. On July 13, 2007, Collins was convicted of theft and resisting arrest. He was convicted on May 13, 2009 and again on October 22, 2010 for failure to register as a sex offender. He is currently incarcerated within the Texas Department of Corrections at the Mac Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon, Texas, where he is scheduled to be released in September of 2012. To this day, Collins has yet to be charged or convicted for the rape and murder of Robbie Middleton.
DEATH OF ROBBIE MIDDLETON
While it was exceptionally painful and trying, Robbie Middleton survived this horrific event. He spent many years trying to become a normal little boy, but normalcy for Robbie would never be that of another child. In public, the best he could hope for would be pity, but usually he faced fear. Due to his massive injuries, Robbie remained small in stature, but had the largest of hearts. Robbie did not let what happened to him deter his desire to help others. The doctors, nurses and staff at Shriners have expressed their gratitude for having the chance to meet him and their respect for the person that he became.
Robbie and his mother, Colleen, were instrumental in setting up the Robert Middleton Foundation and a website called Burn Survivor News, which raised money for other burn victims across the country.
In another example of his generosity and willingness to lend a helping hand, Robbie befriended a young girl from Belize who was also at Shriners for burn treatment. This young lady eventually moved back home, but years later wanted to come back to the United States to attend medical school. Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough money to do so. Enter Robbie – he would sit outside Shriners and raise money for her to return for school. This was just the kind of wonderful person Robbie was and how he tried to make the world a better place.
Robbie Middleton never made his twenty-first birthday. As a result of his injuries and the rapidly cultured skin that prolonged his life, Robbie contracted an aggressive form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, which eventually claimed his life. The doctors who treated Robbie testified that but for the burning, he would not have had the cancer and therefore would be alive today. Don Wilburn Collins tried to kill Robbie Middleton on June 28, 1998 – it took thirteen years to accomplish his goal.
SHRINERS HOSPITAL FOR CHILDREN
The Middleton family would like to express their sincere gratitude to each and every doctor, nurse and staff member at Shriners for the incredible care and support they provided to Robbie. Shriners provided every service over thirteen years to the Middleton family free of charge. The charitable nature of this institution and the gratitude felt by the Middletons for its existence cannot be adequately described in words.
After Hurricane Ike, serious consideration was given to closing the hospital. Robbie Middleton would not let that happen. Robbie along with many others rallied to provide support for the continued operation of the hospital, and we are thankful that those efforts were rewarded by allowing Shriners to continue to provide care to children today.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
The Middleton family asks for only two things: (1) letters, calls, and/or emails to – David K. Walker, Montgomery County Attorney, 207 W. Phillips, 2nd Floor, Conroe, Texas 77301 Telephone Number: 936-539-7828, Fax Number: 936-760-6920 E-mail: David.Walker@mctx.org – demanding that either the file be turned over to the proper authorities or that they prosecute Don Wilburn Collins before someone else is hurt; and (2) if you would like to make a charitable contribution, they ask that you send it to Shriners Hospitals for Children c/o The Middleton Family, 802 N. Carancahua, Suite 900, Corpus Christi, TX 78401.
Martin Luther King said it best when he stated, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Robbie Middleton has been denied justice long enough. Please help.
NOTABLE FIRE RELATED CASES
Mr. Sico represents the family of William Clemmer. William Clemmer, a machinist from Stephenville, Texas died in May 2008 of severe burns over more than half of his body caused by design and manufacturing flaws permitting the failure of his MK lighter to extinguish. Mr. Clemmer was at work on April 10, 2008, when he lit a cigarette, and placed the MK lighter in his pocket. Seconds later, the MK lighter exploded, engulfing Mr. Clemmer in flames. Although he was severely burned, he managed to call his brother, who hurried over and drove Mr. Clemmer to the nearest fire station. As Mr. Clemmer was being transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, his last spoken words were, “My lighter exploded.” Mr. Clemmer never regained consciousness and died 26 days later. He was 56 years old.
Mr. Sico and the firm of Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P. have recently requested the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission seek an immediate recall of the MK lights, manufactured by Zhuoye Lighter Company, Ltd., a Chinese company. See Attachment “A”. Also, the Commission has been asked to establish a rule requiring lighters sold in the US to conform to the standard already established by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International) F400, versions of which have already been adopted in Canada and Europe.
On or about April 13, 2006, Neal Leonard and Gayla Leonard were passengers in a single-engine Robinson R44 II helicopter, Registration Number N123CD, when it crashed at the Gillespie County Airport, in Fredericksburg, TX. Gayla Leonard suffered fatal carbon monoxide toxicity and sustained extensive burns with partial incineration of her body surfaces and extremities. In addition to Gayla Leonard, the pilot and one other passenger sustained fatal injuries due to burns and Neal Leonard was seriously injured.
The crash, which occurred at low speed and just a few feet above the ground, was a survivable impact and should have, at most, resulted in minor injuries to Gayla Leonard, the pilot and the other passengers. Instead, the aircraft fuel was dispersed into the occupants’ space of the helicopter and onto the occupants resulting in a post-impact fire. This matter was resolved favorably for the Leonard family.
Mr. Sico was retained by Edward McKenna along with his family and the Hammer family regarding the serious injuries and death as a resulting from British Petroleum refinery’s explosion in Texas City, Texas on March 23, 2005. Mr. Sico along with counsel for the victims fully responded in demanding necessary materials to establish liability of British Petroleum as well as immediately assembling a team of experienced experts to quickly evaluate the scene. Mr. Sico’s clients claims were settled within three months of the accident which permanently injured Mr. McKenna and claimed the life of Linda Hammer Rowe.
In Ibarra v. LG Electronics a home fire caused by a defective window air conditioning unit lead to tragedy in South Texas. LG Electronics, the Korean manufacturer made decisions to eliminate trace elements of metal in order to cut costs in their U.S. bound products. Mr. Sico was able to establish that this vital change lead to catastrophic failure of the air conditioning unit and the death of nine year old, Adan Ibarra, resulting in a jury verdict of more than $34,000,000.
Mr. Sico also represented Melissa Guerrero for the extensive burn injuries which occurred on June 9, 2000, as a result of a fire 102 East South Main Street, Flatonia, Texas, The fire in question as started by three year old son who used a Scripto-Tokai Aim ‘n Flame utility lighter. As a result of such events, Melissa Guerrero suffered extensive burn injuries. At the time of the manufacture design and development of the subject utility lighter federal legislation has already been passed requiring child resistant features on ordinary cigarette lighters. The lighter in question was sold along side the child resistant cigarette lighters eventually leading to this disasterous result. Since the time of this litigation the consumer product safety commission has required the addition of child resistant features in all lighters sold in the United States.
Mr. Sico represented Jacqueline Saburido and her father, Amadeo Saburido against General Motors. On September 19, 1999, Jacqueline Saburido was traveling with four of her friends on FM 2222 in Austin. She was the right front passenger in a 1990 Oldsmobile Regency 98, when it was struck by a GMC Yukon SUV, being operated by an intoxicated 17 year‑old driver. Once the front of the Regency was struck it burst into flames. Two people in the car were killed. Jacqueline was using her seatbelt and survived the crash, but was trapped under the dashboard and was extensively and horribly burned.
Criminal charges were brought against the drunk driver who caused the initial collision. Miss Saburido and her father brought suit against General Motors and the driver of the oncoming vehicle, claiming their negligence combined to cause the injuries to Miss Saburido. Her attorneys claimed that the fuel system in the General Motors’ vehicle was defective, permitting gasoline to escape and cause the fire. Had the fuel system been designed properly the accident would have left Miss Saburido with only broken bones. Since the settlement of this matter Ms. Saburido has been featured on Oprah Winfrey and became the subject of one of the most controversial anti-drunk driving campaigns in Texas history. As part of the campaign her pictures, both before and after the injury, were displayed on the front window of convenience stores with a message against driving while intoxicated.
Mr. Sico further represented the Garcia for claims they held for the improper distribution of propane to a residential home. The jury found that Y Propane was responsible for failing to properly perform their duties in inspecting the propane distribution lines. Upon entering his home Mr. Garcia smelled gas and did what each of us would do in that situation and opened doors and windows. Little did he know that the propane distribution system had permitted the gas to hover at floor level where he could not smell this highly explosive material. Fire investigators determined that when the compressor on the refrigerator turned to the on position a small spark ignited the propane completely leveling the three bedroom home of the Garcias. Mr. Garcia lived six weeks before his death in a burn ward. The jury awarded more than $5,000,000 to the Garcia family.
On May 13, 1999, naptha escaped from an improperly inspected vessel creating an expansive cloud ready for ignition. The workers at the Coastal refinery began to run at the sight of the rust colored cloud flowing in their direction. The attempt to flee saved the lives, but left three victims horribly burned with permanent injuries. Mr. Sico established that the Coastal Corporation had failed to properly monitor the refining process which lead to the explosion and injuries of all involved. The $122,000,000 verdict against the Coastal Corporation is one of the largest actual damage verdicts in the history of the United States. Great resources were expended in order to immediately stop the activities of Coastal Corporation so that Plaintiffs’ experts could investigate the scene while evidence remained unchanged. This kind of expedient in case depth analysis was critical in leading to a successful jury verdict.