Christopher Frank Pittman (born April 9, 1989 in Huntsville, Alabama) was convicted in 2005 of murdering his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, on November 28, 2001, when he was 12 years old. The case drew national attention in part because of his age at the time of the crime and in part because his defense that the prescription drug Zoloft influenced his actions. Pittman was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced to 25 years on appeal.
At age twelve Pittman ran away from home twice, threatened suicide, was picked up by police, and confined to a facility for troubled or runaway children. He was confined there for six days. While there, he was put on Paxil for mild depression. His father, Joe sent him away from their home in Oxford, Florida, to live with his grandparents in Chester, South Carolina, where he frequently visited. His paternal grandparents had been a source of stability to him for years in a life with a mother who had run out on him twice and a father who Pittman claimed to have been abusive.
His doctor in Chester, having no samples of Paxil to give Pittman, gave him samples of Zoloft instead. Although both drugs are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) with similar modes of selective action, abruptly substituting one for the other is usually not advisable. Almost immediately Pittman allegedly began to experience negative side-effects from the new medication; his sister went so far as to describe him as "manic." He purportedly experienced a burning sensation all over his body which required pain medication. He complained about the side effects of the drug. At a subsequent doctor's visit, his dosage was increased from 100 mg daily to 200 mg daily. Zoloft does have several side-effects in children, including aggravated depression, abnormal dreams, paranoid reactions, hallucinations, aggressive behavior and delusions. Risks from overdose include potential "manic reactions."
Pittman had an argument on the school bus, choked a fellow student, and later disturbed the person playing piano in his church. That night, November 28, 2001, after receiving a paddle spanking from his grandfather, Pittman went into his grandparents' bedroom and murdered them with their own shotgun which he had been taught how to use. After the murder he set fire to the house using a candle and papers. Pittman took his grandparents' car, their guns, his dog, and $33 and left. He was picked up after getting stuck two counties away. Before confessing, he told a story of a large black male who had kidnapped him after murdering his grandparents and setting fire to their house. When he ultimately confessed he proclaimed that his grandparents deserved what they got. Pittman's father testified that the incident occurred two days after Christopher's Zoloft dosage had been doubled.
Trial and Appeals
On Monday, January 31, 2005, three years after the murders, his trial as an adult began. The case involved several important issues, including considerations of mental capacity regarding his age, the other issue was the impact of the Zoloft on his mental state. There was also the consideration of whether his crime should be considered murder or some form of manslaughter. Ultimately, the focus of the trial was on the Zoloft. The prosecution focused on proving that Pittman did know the difference between right and wrong, and his culpable mental status was revealed by such factors as planning the cover up such that he would escape before the fire started (by use of the candle), and the steps he took during his flight from the scene.
On February 15, 2005 Pittman was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. There was some controversy about the verdict: two of the jurors admitted feeling coerced into their decision, and another juror openly discussed the trial with his wife and bartender during deliberations. On October 5, 2006, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments on his appeal. A petition to pardon Pittman was also presented at that time. The Justices were also asked to hold off on moving Pittman to the adult penitentiary, but the delay was denied. On June 11, 2007, the Court affirmed Pittman's conviction by a vote of 4-1. Discovery Channel later in 2006 aired an episode of 48 Hours, which was devoted to the Pittman case. On April 14, 2008, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, which was based on an Eighth Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment (lengthy sentence for child).
On July 27, 2010 South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Roger Young approved Pitman's post conviction relief petition and granted him a new trial based on a finding of ineffective counsel. In November 2010 Judge Young refused a request by the state to reconsider his decision. In December 2010 Pittman entered into a plea bargain pursuant to which he pleaded guilty to the crime of voluntary manslaughter and received a 25-year sentence. He had been serving a 30-year to life sentence.
- Polk, Jim (2005-02-10). "Psychiatrists offer differing views at teen's double murder trial". CNN Justice. Archived from the original on 2012-07-09. Retrieved 2012-02-08.
- Dewan, Shaila (2005-02-15). "The New York Times > National > Jurors in Boy's Murder Trial Consider if Zoloft Is to Blame". Retrieved 2012-02-09.
- Leung, Rebecca (2009-02-11). "Prescription For Murder? - CBS News". 48 Hours. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
- "Zoloft". Archived from the original on 2010-08-29.
- Mears, Bill (14 April 2008). "Supreme Court turns down boy killer's appeal". CNN Justice. CNN. Archived from the original on 19 January 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- Weiss, Debra Cassens (2007-06-12). "Zoloft Defense Loses in S.C." ABA Journal. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
- The State v. Christopher Frank Pitman, 26339 (South Carolina Supreme Court 11 June 2007).
- www.silive.com[dead link]
- http://www.charlotte.com/local/story/156511.html[dead link]
- Kropf, Schuyler (27 July 2010). "Pittman granted new trial in grandparents' murder". The Post and Courier. Evening Post Publishing Company. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- Dys, Andrew (30 November 2010). "Judge refuses to overturn ruling to give Christopher Pittman a new murder trial". heraldonline. Archived from the original on 3 February 2012. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- Kinnard, Meg (9 December 2010). "Pittman takes plea deal in Zoloft defense case". The Post and Courier. Evening Post Publishing Company. Retrieved 6 February 2012.