Ethics, Justice and Punishment: The Don Collins-Robert Middleton Case


Several readers sent me this case, which is as odd as it is horrible. In 1998, Don Willburn Collins allegedly attacked, possibly raped, and set on fire an 8 year-old boy named Robby Middleton when Collins was 13, and Middleton was only 8. Collins spent several months in juvenile detention but was released when prosecutors decided they did not have enough evidence to convict him. Middleton survived, permanently scarred and maimed, his health ruined. In 2011 he died of skin cancer, which doctors attributed to his burns. Shortly before he perished, he gave a video deposition accusing Collins of the crime.

Now a judge has ruled that Collins can be prosecuted for Middleton’s murder, since he died as a direct consequence of the attack 13 years earlier. Moreover, the judge said, he can be charged as an adult, though he was a juvenile when the attack took place.

The case raises many legal issues, and I am neither prepared nor interested in exploring those. I suspect that the task facing prosecutors is insuperable, given the time that has passed, issues of proof and law, and the gut feeling many jurors will harbor that such a conviction would be unfair.

I will render this ethics verdict, however: If Collins was the attacker, I believe it would be fair, just and ethical for him to be punished for it now as an adult, for that is what he is. Continue reading