Pfizer Must Hand Over Documents in Pitman Case
Sat, 4 Dec 2004
A federal judge in Charlotte North Carolina rejected Pfizer’s arguments and ordered the company to hand over the concealed documents sought by defense counsels in the criminal case against Christopher Pitman, a teenager who, at the age of 12, shot his grandparents while on antidepressants–Zoloft and Paxil.
For once Pfizer’s efforts to confound justice by concealing crucial evidence linking Zoloft to violent and suicidal-homicidal behavior have failed!
After reviewing the 29 documents sought by the defense, judge Daniel Pieper concluded: “It seems to be that there is some evidentiary potential to the documents.”
It is not for Pfizer to determine what documents the defense needs to prove its case.
Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Sat, Dec. 04, 2004
Drugmaker must hand over papers
Ruling could help defense of boy accused of killing grandparents
NICHOLE MONROE BELL
CHARLESTON – A Circuit Court judge on Friday ordered drug giant Pfizer Inc. to give internal research documents to lawyers defending a 15-year-old Chester County boy charged with murdering his grandparents.
Lawyers for Christopher Pittman said winning the ruling was crucial to the boy’s defense because they contend Pfizer’s drug Zoloft led Pittman to shoot Joe and Joy Pittman as they slept in their bed three years ago.
Defense lawyers say the boy, who was 12 at the time, was prescribed the drug for depression in the weeks before the slayings and suffered an unintended reaction to the antidepressant. They contend that Pfizer’s documents, which include unpublished data from clinical trials on children, will help show that Zoloft causes children to become suicidal and violent.
Pfizer argued Friday that the documents won’t help the defense because the company has no research indicating Zoloft can cause anyone to kill.
Prosecutors also dispute defense claims, saying Pittman knew the difference between right and wrong.
They say Pittman burned down his grandparents’ house to conceal the crime, fled in the family car and lied when police found him.
The case comes amid a national debate on the safety of children using antidepressants.
In October, the Food and Drug Administration ordered that all antidepressants carry warnings saying some children who take the drugs are more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide.
Drug companies are also facing criticism that they withheld negative clinical trial data from public view and published only reports favorable to their drugs.
Pfizer lawyer Craig May of Denver argued that several other courts have rejected using the documents because they can easily be taken out of context and are inconclusive.
May also questioned the true intentions of Pittman’s attorneys, who are civil lawyers working for free on the case. Both lead defense lawyers, Karen Barth Menzies of Los Angeles and Andy Vickery of Houston, have previously sued Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies in civil court. Because of those lawsuits, both lawyers have seen many of the documents they are requesting; however, confidentiality orders in those civil cases prohibit the lawyers from using the documents in the Pittman case.
“We’re concerned their intention is not to try their client, but to try Pfizer in a quasi-product liability case,” May told the judge. “The fact that they make their living suing pharmaceutical companies is not a coincidence … We’re concerned this is an effort to poke and poke until they get rulings they like to stoke additional (civil) cases.”
Judge Daniel Pieper said Pittman and his lawyers have a right to review the information because it is relevant to their defense. As a condition of getting the documents, defense lawyers agreed to keep the information confidential because Pfizer had concerns that some of the documents could reveal trade secrets.
Pieper also said his ruling did not necessarily mean he would allow the defense to use information at the trial, which is expected sometime early next year.
Pittman’s lawyers were pleased about the ruling.
“It’s been a good day, a very good day for the defense,” Vickery said. “There’s a lot of dirty laundry that Pfizer keeps locked away in their vaults.”
May, the Pfizer lawyer, declined to comment after the hearing, and a company spokesperson could not be reached.
Also Friday, Pieper said he is still trying to decide whether the case should be moved back to juvenile court. If the case remains in General Sessions court, Pittman could face life imprisonment if convicted. If it is tried in Family Court and he is convicted, he could be held in a juvenile facility until age 21.
The judge denied two other motions: one to dismiss charges the boy had not received a speedy trial and another to throw out his confession.
A number of psychiatric evaluations and changes in lawyers and the judge have delayed the proceedings.
After hearing testimony, Pieper said the boy understood his rights and confessed voluntarily.
Nichole Monroe Bell: (803) 327-8511
Pittman trial request denied
By Jason Cato
(Published December 4, 2004)
CHARLESTON — Christopher Pittman’s double murder charges were not dropped Friday, but his case may still be sent back to juvenile court.
Judge Daniel Pieper denied a request to dismiss charges against Pittman, disagreeing with defense attorneys that the boy’s constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated. Pittman has been in jail for more than three years awaiting trial in the deaths of his grandparents in rural Chester County in November 2001, when he was 12. Pieper will rule soon on a request to have the case sent back to Family Court, where a maximum sentence would keep the boy in jail until his 21st birthday.
If tried as an adult, as he is now charged, Pittman could face life in prison if convicted.
When Pittman does go to trial — either being tried as a juvenile or as an adult — his attorneys will be armed with weapons they’ve long sought to use in the boy’s defense: Concealed drug company documents.
His attorneys and expert witnesses will argue that an adverse reaction to antidepressant medication, specifically Zoloft, led to his violent behavior. Pieper denied an attempt by Pfizer, the drug company that makes Zoloft, to block efforts to get certain documents admitted in this case. The defense alleges that the documents show that the company has known and concealed information that proves Zoloft can cause some people to become hostile and possibly homicidal.
Pittman had taken Zoloft and Paxil, another antidepressant, for five weeks before the killings.
“It seems to be that there is some evidentiary potential to the documents,” said Pieper, who has been given 29 such documents to review behind closed doors.
Pfizer attorney Craig May of Denver declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. During the hearing, he said: “There isn’t any scientific evidence in Pfizer’s possession that proves Zoloft causes people to kill other people.”
May also argued that the company was fearful that allowing the documents into the Pittman case could open the door for anyone who commits a crime while on Zoloft to pester Pfizer to search for confidential documents that might in some way show a connection to their case. He also asked that if the documents were to be admitted that they remain confidential and not be released to the public. The defense agreed to that provision.
Andy Vickery, an attorney from Houston who is representing Pittman, called Pieper’s ruling on the documents important.
“What the ruling says is that Pfizer cannot selectively spoon-feed information to the prosecution without the defense looking at the other half,” Vickery said.
Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, the drug company that makes Paxil, have provided prosecutors information since as early as January 2002. Included in that information is a document referred to as a “prosecutor’s manual” that reportedly touts the benefits of the drugs and helps defend against allegations that antidepressants could be responsible for causing people to commit crimes.
The concealed documents will help prove otherwise, said Vickery. He and fellow defense attorney Karen Barth Menzies have seen these documents in civil cases.
“Karen and I have known for a long time what’s there,” Vickery said. “Now we’re free to use it.”
In addition to the dismissal of charges being denied, a motion to suppress Pittman’s confession to police also was turned down.
John Meadors, the deputy 5th Circuit solicitor who will be prosecuting the case, argued in court that Pittman understood his rights and voluntarily waived them when he gave a confession without a family member or attorney present. Meadors also said the boy had a history of run-ins with police that include lodging a dart in a bull’s neck, shooting a neighbor’s mobile home with a pellet gun and choking a second-grader on a school bus the day before shooting his grandparents in bed and burning down their house.
In the three-page confession Pittman gave to police, the boy admitted to shooting his grandparents after he was punished for the incident on the school bus. In the confession, read aloud in court, Pittman said: “I’m not sorry. They deserved it. They hit me. My dad used to hit me with that paddle. I don’t know if I’d do it again. Everybody hates me now.”
Dr. Lanette Atkins, a child and forensic psychiatrist with the state Department of Mental Health, testified that Pittman was in a psychotic state due to Zoloft that prevented him from knowing right from wrong and caused him to suffer hallucinations. She said he described the hallucinations as voices in his head saying “kill, kill.”
“He is a kid who does not belong in the juvenile justice system,” Atkins said. “There’d be no more danger (of him being on the street) than there would be for someone like me.”
Pittman, now 15, wore khaki pants, a blue, short-sleeved shirt and a patterned tie to the hearing. He smiled when he entered the courtroom and saw his grandmother and great-grandmother, who were sitting about 15 feet behind him. He attempted to wave, but was unable because his hands were shackled to a chain around his waist. He sat with his head bowed for most of the hearing, sometimes looking up to whisper things to his attorneys while prosecution experts testified about his confession.
Before adjourning, the judge wanted to know why Pittman has been in jail for more than three years without having had a bond hearing. He requested that the prosecution and defense address that issue as soon as possible.
Meadors asked that the boy not be given bond, stating that he was a danger to society and a trial was hoped to be held within weeks. His office has requested that a trial begin the last week of January or the first week of February, but nothing has been scheduled yet.
Jason Cato: 329-5071
Copyright © 2004 The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina
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