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Jury rejects "Zoloft Defense" in murder trial focused on 12-year-old boy's killing of his grandparents.

In South Carolina, a jury found Christopher Pittman guilty of the killing of his grandparents. Pittman, who is now 15, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the killings that occurred when he was 12 years old. Pittman had come to live with his grandparents in South Carolina after he began having trouble at home in Florida.

At trial, the prosecution argued that Pittman had grown angry because his grandfather had disciplined him, waited for his grandparents to go to bed, shot each of them once in the head with a shotgun, and then set the house on fire. The defense argued that Pittman was "involuntarily intoxicated" by the antidepressant Zoloft, which he had begun taking less than a month before the killings, and that this medication caused him to experience "command hallucinations" that told him to kill his grandparents.

During 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Zoloft, to carry a label that warned of the increased risk of suicidal behavior among young people that take this medication. However, the FDA warning does not indicate a link between these medications and violence towards other individuals. In Canada, on the other hand, these medications are required to include a warning indicating that patients of all ages taking these drugs may experience behavioral and/or emotional changes that may put them at increased risk of self-harm or harm to others.

A juror who was interviewed after the trial said the jury was convinced that Zoloft could have a negative effect on young people, but did not believe it was enough to cause them to kill someone.

Although a spokesperson for Pfizer, Inc., the maker of Zoloft, said the company was aware of 14 criminal cases in which defendants blamed the medication for their actions, he asserted that in only a single case has the defense been successful. In April 2004, a jury in Santa Cruz, California, acquitted a 28-year-old man of attempted murder and assault following testimony by a neuropsychiatrist that the man struck his longtime friend in the head with a "ninja key ring" four times because of an adverse reaction to Zoloft. Shaila Dewan & Barry Meier, Boy Who Took Antidepressant Is Convicted in Killings, N.Y. TIMES (Feb. 16, 2005), at national/16zoloft.html. An account of the Santa Cruz jury verdict can be found at 2004/April/24/local/stories/05local.htm.

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Title Annotation:South Carolina
Publication:Developments in Mental Health Law
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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