Prosecution rests in Zoloft defense trial
Psychiatrist says accused boy heard his own voice
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- A psychiatrist testified Thursday that the voice that a then-12-year-old boy heard in his head telling him to kill his grandparents was his own.
"I asked, 'Was it your voice?' and he said, 'yeah'," said Dr. James Ballenger. "And I said, 'Do you think it could be your thoughts being loud in your mind?' and he said, 'Yeah.' "
The testimony came as the prosecution rested its case in the murder trial of Christopher Pittman.
Pittman is being tried as an adult on two charges of murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 30 years to life in prison
Prosecutors say Pittman, now 15, shot his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, in November 2001 because they had disciplined him.
But defense attorneys say the boy was hallucinating because of a dose of the antidepressant Zoloft when he killed his grandparents in their home outside Chester, South Carolina.
In Thursday's testimony, Ballenger said the boy was angry that his grandfather was threatening to send him back to his troubled family home in Florida after he got into a fight on the school bus.
"I think he did it because he was very mad, very mad," Ballenger said. "Even the voices in his head said, 'Do it, don't do it, do it, don't do it,' and he stood with a loaded gun arguing with himself."
The defense has acknowledged that Pittman walked into the bedroom and fired four times at his sleeping grandparents.
Ballenger testified that he believed Pittman knew right from wrong -- the key point at issue in the trial.
"This was planned out, executed terribly well," the psychiatric expert said.
Pittman was expected to be released to the custody of relatives later Thursday, after more than three years behind bars in a state juvenile facility. He will remain out on bond only until the trial is over, probably by the end of next week.
Earlier Thursday, the teenager wiped tears from his eyes, his shoulders heaving as he fought back sobs, while the pathologist who performed the autopsies described the shotgun wounds to the heads of the victims.
Pittman had been taking antidepressants since before he arrived in South Carolina. The teenager was put on medication after incidents between him and his father in Florida that led to a six-day stay at a psychiatric center in that state.
When caught the day after the shootings in 2001, Christopher told detectives he was on Zoloft, but he gave a different reason for the shootings, saying his grandfather had locked him in his room because of the school fight, then beat him with a large wooden paddle when he came out for a drink of water, according to court documents.
In his confession, Pittman told police that after the beating, he waited about 10 minutes after his grandparents went to bed and then loaded a shotgun.
Zoloft, along with prescription antidepressants such as Prozac and Paxil, have been at the center of controversy over their effects on children.
In October, the Food and Drug Administration decided there was a measurable link between those antidepressants and suicidal actions or thoughts among some younger patients, and told manufacturers to strengthen warnings to doctors and parents.
However, the FDA has never suggested there is any connection between the antidepressants and violence toward others.
In a statement, Pfizer Inc., which makes Zoloft, said, "There is no scientific evidence to suggest that Zoloft contributes to violent behavior in either adults or children."
Although Zoloft is not recommended for use by children with depression, the drug and similar antidepressants are widely prescribed for younger patients as well as adults.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Andy Vickery described Pittman as "a shy, decent boy who was acting under the influence of a powerful, mind-altering drug."
Vickery said the drug caused Pittman to suffer "command hallucinations" that told him to kill his grandparents.
The killings took place outside Chester, but the trial was moved downstate to Charleston after the judge and prosecutor withdrew for personal reasons.
CNN's Elizabeth Cohen and Jim Polk contributed to this report.