South Carolina

12-year-old shoots grandparents, burns house to ground

November 28, 2001
Chester, South Carolina
12-year-old Christopher Pittman (pictured) shoots both of his paternal grandparents to death, sets fire to their house, and steals their car and $33

Pittman had recently moved in with his grandparents after he experienced extreme depression and threatened to commit suicide in front of his sister. Originally, Pittman was on Paxil, an antidepressant, but the doctor in Chester did not have Paxil and gave him Zoloft, a different antidepressant, instead. Though the 2 medications are similar, a sudden change in mental health medication is not recommended.

After the switch, Pittman began to complain about the side effects of the medication, including manic episodes and a burning sensation over his body. His doctor responded by doubling the dosage.

On November 28, Pittman got into an argument on the school bus, choked another student, and interrupted a piano player at church. Because of these outbursts, his grandfather spanked him with a paddle. Afterwards, Pittman took the couple’s shotgun, killed both his grandparents, and took their car. He was found 2 counties away when the car became stuck.

Initially, Pittman claimed a large black man killed his grandparents, set fire to the home, and kidnapped him. He eventually confessed to the murders, however, and stated that they deserved to be killed.

Pittman was brought to trial 3 years later and was tried as an adult. His defense rested largely on the Zoloft side effects (which can include amnesia, hallucinations, aggressive behavior, and paranoia) and possibly Paxil withdrawals. Evidence to support this claim came from his aggressive behavior when he initially entered a mental health facility, behaviors which gradually disappeared. However, evidence to the contrary was presented regarding his behaviors before being put on Paxil, behaviors the defense tried to describe as a “boy being a boy.”

Pittman was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2005. In 2010, Pittman sued his attorneys during a civil trial because they failed to tell his court-appointed attorney there were plea negotiations in the works. If he pleaded to a lesser manslaughter charge, his sentence could have been between 2 and 30 years. Because of this, his sentence was overturned and he was retried. Pittman took the plea arrangement and received a slightly reduced sentence of 25 years.

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