In 1692, in Salem Village, Massachusetts, the witch hysteria began with young girls becoming overcome with fits accompanied by seizures and screams.

The townspeople soon thought this was due to black magic, and a witch hunt soon began with allegations of witchcraft spreading like wildfire throughout the Puritan settlement.

During this witch hunt, twenty people were put to death and executed as witches. While they were not burnt at the stake, they still had a brutal death.

The myth of burning at the stake came from European witch trials, where it was expected.

While burning at the stake may not have occurred during the Salem witch trials, a young boy, Robert Middleton, was burnt at the stake through a vicious attack that permanently impacted his life and death, even though he survived.


10 /10 Attack On Robert

During the afternoon of his birthday, he was attacked while walking to a friend’s apartment. He was tied to a tree with a rope, had gasoline thrown on him, and then set ablaze.

As the rope caught fire, he was rescued. He escaped and was later found by his mother, burned almost beyond recognition, and close to death.

9 /10 Robert's Death

While he lived for over a decade with his injuries, Robert died on April 29th, 2011, from skin cancer that most likely stemmed from his original skin grafts.

On his death bed, Robert named the person he thought had attacked and lit him on fire in a 27-minute video. This person was Donald (Don) Collins, a 13-year-old at the time, who was his neighbor.

8 /10 Reason Behind The Attack

Don attacked Robert due to him sexually assaulting him two weeks beforehand. This motive became known almost a decade after the incident in the video that Robert made only 17 days before his death.

Robert stated that he was walking alone in the woods when Don appeared behind him, sprayed gas in his face, and then lit him on fire. The attack was to keep Robert silent and prevent him from revealing this secret.


7 /10 Robert, Robbie Middleton's Eighth Birthday

Robert, aka “Robbie” Middleton, celebrated his eighth birthday on June 28th, 1998. On this day, he looked forward to using his new birthday presents and spending some of the money he received.

Using this money, he bought fireworks and decided to use his new tent, which was a birthday gift. After walking through the woods near his home, visiting a neighbor, his mother helped pitch the tent.

6 /10 Going To The Hospital

Robert was then taken to the hospital. There, he was treated for third-degree burns that covered 99% of his body. The only part of his body that remained untouched was the soles of his feet.

While his parents were told he would not survive, to their surprise, he did. He would later have over 150 operations and receive physical therapy at the Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, Texas.


5 /10 The Original Trial Of Don Collins

While Don was charged with the crime initially in 1998, the case did not go to trial as prosecutors did not have enough evidence to win.

As the crime was committed when Don was only 13 years old, there was also trying him as an adult, as this age for adult certification was 14.

However, this was changed in 1999 in the state of Texas and lowered to 10 years old. As Robert died in 2011, it was determined that the lower certification age was thus relevant in the case against Don the second time around in 2015.

4 /10 Charging Don For His Crime

At the time of Robert’s death, Don was already serving time for sexually assaulting another eight-year-old boy in 2001 when he was 16 years old.

He also served time for failing to register as a sex offender and was released from prison on September 5th, 2011. After Robert’s death, a coroner deemed it a homicide, and Don was put on trial for the attack.


3 /10 Don On Trial Again

During his trial, a jury convicted Don of murdering Robert on February 9th, 2015. During the trial, prosecutors described him as a child rapist and a monster who liked to intimidate boys and even bragged about setting Robert on fire.

Other evidence shown included an interview conducted by a photographer where Don spoke at the scene of the attack, gave specific details of the crime, and even admitted to playing with fire.

2 /10 The Second Trial Continues

While there were no eyewitnesses and no physical evidence for the crime, the prosecution’s case was strengthened by accounts of witnesses who had heard Don brag about the attack.

Robert’s testimony also indicated that Don attacked him and an adult he could hear but not see. Don was sentenced to 40 years in prison. While the defense tried to appeal the conviction, this was later rejected in 2017.


1 /10 Outcome For The Middleton Family

The Middleton family received the most significant compensation awarded in court at $150 billion in December 2011. This exceeded the Florida tobacco verdict in 2000 of $145 billion, though it was later overturned.

While this was done symbolically, this kept the case in the public eye and kept up the pressure on prosecutors to continue the case against Don.

While Robert’s family was sad to wait 17 years for justice to come for their son, they were thrilled that Don would not be able to hurt another boy and felt that Robert would be satisfied with the outcome.

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