Tuesday, June 12, 2007

South Carolina Supreme Court rejects Zoloft Defense in Pittman case

Well, the Christopher Pittman case has made its way through the state appellate court system and the conviction was affirmed. Pittman was arrested and charged with double homicide in connection with the deaths of his paternal grandparents. Pittman was twelve years old at the time of the incident. Pittman was tried as an adult and the jury convicted him of both murders and the trial judge sentenced Pittman to two concurrent terms of thirty years imprisonment.

The case gained much notoriety in connection with the Zoloft defense, by which counsel argued that trial court erred in failing to charge the jury on the lesser included offenses of involuntary and voluntary manslaughter. In South Carolina, involuntary manslaughter is (1) the unintentional killing of another without malice, but while engaged in an unlawful activity not naturally tending to cause death or great bodily harm; or (2) the unintentional killing of another without malice, while engaged in a lawful activity with reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Pittman argues that he was entitled to an involuntary manslaughter charge because the killing of his grandparents was unintentional and reckless. Pittman claimed that taking Zoloft was a “lawful activity” because he was taking medicine prescribed to him by his doctor, and while under the influence of the legally ingested Zoloft, he killed his grandparents “unintentionally.” The trial court expressed reservation in accepting defense counsel’s argument that the ingestion of Zoloft satisfied the lawful act component required for an involuntary manslaughter charge. The trial court also found there was “no evidence under the law that this conduct was reckless conduct.”

The Supreme Court concluded that Pittman's conduct extended far beyond recklessness:

The record reflects that after a confrontation with his grandfather, Appellant deliberately waited until his grandparents retired to bed, retrieved his shotgun, loaded the shotgun, entered their bedroom, and intentionally shot his grandparents. Although Appellant argues that the shootings were unintentional and reckless, he submitted no evidence to support that finding. Like the trial court, we find the defense’s argument that the ingestion of Zoloft qualifies as a lawful act in the context of an involuntary manslaughter charge to be unconvincing. Accordingly, we conclude that the record contains no evidence upon which a jury could find that these killings were unintentional and a result of recklessness. Therefore, the trial court did not err in failing to charge the jury regarding involuntary manslaughter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And yet Judge Pieper said “There is no case in South Carolina that addresses involuntary intoxication by prescription drugs‥It seems to turn the whole medical system on its side if you can't rely on the medication your doctor prescribes. It could potentially force you into a situation of lifetime commitment if that drug induces an effect of which you're not aware‥ There's something disconcerting about that, albeit probably something of a legal nature that is troubling me.”

I don't understand how the justices didn't see the SSRI violence issue. Just because the Zoloft was legally ingested does not mean it was not responsible and as such, cause Pittman to unintentionally killed his grandparents. The defense put on numerous expert witnesses who testified that in their expert opinion Zoloft was the cause of the action. Yet the court and justices choose not to believe them.