Pardoning Pittman

Christopher Pittman got 30 years for shooting his grandparents in November 2001. That might seem like a puny sentence for a double murder until one considers how puny the perpetrator was: about five feet tall. But then that is about average for a sixth-grader.

Why Pittman snapped is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was the frequent whippings he got from his father, or his mother’s tendency to disappear for years at a time. When he was 12, he had a nervous breakdown, which is when he started taking Paxil. That is also when he moved from the family home in Oxford, Florida to live with his grandparents in Chester, South Carolina.

Joe and Joy Pittman had always been a source of warmth and stability in his life. So it isn’t clear why he walked into their bedroom a few weeks later, flipped on the lights and shot his grandfather — whom he grew up calling “Pop-pop” — through the mouth and his grandmother (“Nanna”) through the back of the head.

But no one was interested in why Pittman did what he did. More than three years passed before he went to trial. By then, in 2005, jurors saw not a child but a six-foot-tall young man, going on 16. And they saw little else. Justice may be blind but for Pittman it was blinder than a deaf bat.

The jury didn’t care that in South Carolina, a doctor had abruptly changed his Paxil prescription to Zoloft, a drug not even approved for children. But suddenly having his depression medication switched may have been the least of Pittman’s problems. Even when properly dispensed some antidepressants can cause suicide and violence.

“Zoloft triggers violence,” attorney Andy Vickery said during opening statements. “The doctor gave a mind-altering drug to a 90-pound 12-year-old. He did not have an evil mind. He had a mind that had been tampered with chemically.”

Perhaps so, but whatever made Pittman go insane, what really matters is that imprisoning a child is inhumane.

“It was difficult, simply because he was 12 years old when he did this,” Steven Platt, one of the jurors, said after the trial. “That was the big factor in the deliberations we did. That played a major role in the difficulty.”

Unlike the jury, the judge was prevented by law from taking Pittman’s age into account.

“This is a very tragic case, tragic to the victim and tragic to the entire family,” Judge Daniel Pieper said. “This case has called attention to the very core values of this society about the treatment of juveniles and punishment.”

His final words to the defendant before sentencing him to South Carolina’s 30-year minimum for murder: “Good luck to you.”

As luck would have it, the South Carolina Supreme Court took a look at his case last year, saying it involved “an issue of significant public interest.” But the state argued that when it came to murder, there was “simply no identifiable national consensus” against locking up 12-year-olds and throwing away the key. The court agreed, and upheld the sentence.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused even to hear Pittman’s appeal. This despite his lawyers’ pleas that ignoring his age had violated the U.S. Constitution’s clause against cruel and unusual punishment; that Pittman, now 19, was serving the longest sentence anywhere for a crime committed so young; and that the whole thing just made America look bad.

“Punishing young children with excessive sentences violates international norms of human rights and juvenile justice law,” they said. “Virtually no other nation in the world subjects young children to such long sentences.”

The High Court replied by subjecting the lawyers to a decidedly short sentence: “No comment.”

Pittman’s one hope of emerging from prison anytime before 2031 now rests with South Carolina’s governor. And there would be no greater child advocate than Gov. Mark Sanford were he to issue a pardon. The case is emblematic, a glaring reminder that while there are laws to protect children from predators, there is nothing to protect them from the law itself.

Pittman has been in prison for seven years — or about one year for every hour the jury deliberated before putting him away for decades. Absent a pardon, he will be in his mid-forties when he leaves Broad River Correctional Institution, in Columbia. Freeing him might not seem as important as bailing out Wall Street. But it is.

Pardoning Pittman, after all, isn’t just about pardoning Pittman. It is about chipping away at an unpardonable belief that some children are disposable. By issuing a pardon, Sanford, who has four sons of his own, would send a clear message that children are not simply pint-sized adults. And that imprisoning instead of rehabilitating them isn’t justice.

It is barbarity.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rosiecee said on October 16th, 2008 at 8:53am #

    Christopher Pittman is not the only child in prison because of having a manic/psychotic reaction to an SSRI antidepressant.

    Mania and psychosis are listed as adverse reactions to SSRIs in the Physicians Desk Reference and at there are over 2,600 cases of people who went insane on these drugs and committed a violent act which was then reported by the media. The full media article is available, telling which particular antidepressant the perpetrator was taking [Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Luvox, Lexapro, Effexor, etc.] and these cases include 47 school shootings, – Columbine, NUI, Redlake, etc., and 56 cases of road rage mania, etc.

    It is sad that people don’t understand why we are having all these school shootings and this tremendous increase in the number of murder-suicides in this country. It all started with the introduction of the first SSRI, Prozac, in 1988.

  2. John Hatch said on October 16th, 2008 at 1:13pm #

    Isn’t America great. Bush can murder millions and have his ass kissed. He can kidnap and torture at will. He can give billions to his buddies. No problem.

    An abused, chemically-induced temporarily insane boy kills his grandparents, and the jury goes nuts. Putting a child in jail is an inexcusable crime. Having the highest rate of incarceration in the world is insane.

  3. Susan said on October 16th, 2008 at 4:08pm #

    Please sign Christopher’s Petition!!!!

  4. Hue Longer said on October 16th, 2008 at 8:14pm #

    Thanks Rosiecee,

    Everytime there’s a school shooting I predict that the media will say that he was troubled and on anti-depresents and that he hadn’t taken them that day.

  5. Stacey said on October 17th, 2008 at 7:06am #

    England has banned the use of these drugs in CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 18 because of their ADVERSE EFFECTS. “DRUGS” like these are not good for some. There are those like myself who are allergic to certain antibiotics a reaction that is accepted by the medical community. It is never questioned Doctors have just accepted the fact that there are those individuals who’s body can’t handle certain “ANTiBIOTICS”. I can’t understand for the life of me WHY??? people doubt that a CHILD could have an ADVERSE REACTION TO A MIND ALTERING DRUG?? Can someone explain this to me?
    These are STRONG DRUGS that are manipulating the brain and the way a person thinks and acts. Just because it works for some doesn’t mean it will work well in others. Christopher Pittman was a young boy who should have never been given Paxil and Zoloft. He has served seven years in prison ‘TIME SERVED”!! He should be PARDONED and sent home to his family.

  6. valerie said on October 17th, 2008 at 10:00am #

    this is such a wonderful article, as a christopher pittman supporter i’d like to say thank you to the author.if there had been 12 people like you on that jury christopher wouldn’t be where he is now.there is no justice in finding a child guilty who was 12 years old at the time on an adult dosage of zoloft,there was no justice when the sc supreme court gave christopher false hope by asking to hear his case and not overturning it,there is no justice when the supreme court of this land says “no comment” when they refuse to hear his case or for a judge to tell christopher “good luck to you” as he sentences that child to 30 years in adult the author says its barbarity.

  7. concerned said on October 17th, 2008 at 1:01pm #

    There is something seriously wrong with the Supreme Court justices!! We have to keep fighting for our kids until there is changes made with the laws. When it comes to treating some kids as kids and others not as kids, this doesn’t make any sense what so ever! Any person 18 and under is a child and should be treated as such in any circumstance! Forcing children into the adult court and prison system is clearly barbaric, inhumane and morally wrong!!

  8. Knight said on October 17th, 2008 at 1:05pm #

    Adults are the “guilty” ones, for forcing Chris to take those drugs. But where are all the adults? the doc that ordered the drugs??? They are FREE, while Chris faces 30 yrs prison time with NO chance of parole.
    Indeed, this is gross injustice bestowed upon a 12 yr old child. Officials need to know and learn about the anatomy of the human brain developments, and stop this “state sanctioned” murder of our nation’s children.

  9. ms alex said on October 17th, 2008 at 6:32pm #

    There is a sign on new cars that read, no child 12 years or younger be allowed to set in the front seat because of their small stature regarding the seatbelts, and another saying stateing that when it comes to manipulating youth it’s like taking candy from a baby. Christopher had a break from reality the same as several adults in recent days that were found not quilty. He had had about all his small body could handle,little boys love their Mothers and the heartbreak from his Mother abandoning him not once but twice and the constant abuse of his home life was more than anyone could take, resulting in his trying to commit suicide rather than go on, pretty drastic for a 12 year old boy, the drugs Paxil and then Zoloft are not approved for youth under 18. Thank you very much for this article on a Pardon for Christopher,and I hope very much Gov. Sanford can grant him a Pardon so he can go home to the ones who love him and can help him regain the years he has already lost from being with his family.

  10. Knight said on October 21st, 2008 at 8:15am #

    “They(14 yr old boys) were sentenced to the Juvenile Justice Department to be held until they are 21.”
    Where is the justice??? in S.C.??? Christopher Pittman was ONLY 12 yrs old, sentenced to prison for 30 yrs w/ NO chance of parole, Krista McDaniel, had just turned 16, sentenced to 30 yrs w/out chance of parole, she did NOT even “murder” anyone!!
    Why are the sentencing different for these two 14 yr olds, when Chris and Krista are facing 30 yrs w/NO chance of parole???
    Where is the justice???? for “these” children?

  11. Mollie Cook said on November 12th, 2008 at 3:13pm #

    I am praying that Chris is pardoned and finally allowed to be free of this nightmare that PHIZER has caused him. God Bless and keep him and his family.