February 15

Jury Finds Chrisopher Pittman Guilty of Murder

Jury Finds Chrisopher Pittman Guilty of Murder

Tue, 15 Feb 2005

A jury rejected the link between the murder by a (then) 12 year old to the effect of the antidepressant Zoloft.

The jury found Christopher Pittman guilty of murder—as charged. He faces 30 years to life in prison as an adult.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav

Rejecting Zoloft Defense, Jury Finds 15-Year Old Guilty of Murder
Published: February 15, 2005

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A 15-year-old boy who claimed the antidepressant Zoloft drove him to kill his grandparents was found guilty Tuesday of murder.

Christopher Pittman hung his head as the verdict was read after about six hours of deliberations. He faces 30 years to life in prison at sentencing Tuesday afternoon.

The trial was the first case involving a youngster who says an antidepressant caused him to kill, Pittman’s lawyer said. It came at a time of heightened scrutiny over the use of antidepressants among children.

Defense attorneys had urged the jury to send a message to the nation by blaming Zoloft for the killings. They said the negative effects of Zoloft are more pronounced in youngsters, and the drug affected Pittman so he did not know right from wrong.

“We do not convict children for murder when they have been ambushed by chemicals that destroy their ability to reason,” attorney Paul Waldner said.

But prosecutors called the Zoloft defense a smoke screen, saying the then-12-year-old Pittman knew exactly what he was doing three years ago when he shot his grandparents, torched their house and then drove off in their car.

Prosecutor Barney Giese said the real motivation for the crime was the boy’s anger at his grandparents for disciplining him for choking a younger student on a school bus. And he reminded jurors how the boy carried out the killings — shooting his grandfather in the mouth and his grandmother in her head while both lay sleeping.

“I don’t care how old he is. That is as malicious a killing — a murder — as you are ever going to find,” the prosecutor said. He pointed to Pittman’s statement to police in which he said his grandparents “deserved it.”

Pittman was charged as an adult in the November 2001 murders of Joe Pittman, 66, and his wife Joy, 62.

Zoloft is the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the United States, with 32.7 million prescriptions written in 2003. Last October, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Zoloft and other antidepressants to carry “black box” warnings — the government’s strongest warning short of a ban — about an increased risk of suicidal behavior in children.

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