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Psychologist: Pittman said, 'They asked for it'

Prosecution presents half-dozen rebuttal witnesses

From Jim Polk
CNN

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
South Carolina
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Trials

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- A clinical psychologist who talked with 12-year-old Christopher Pittman the day after he was arrested on charges of killing his grandparents testified Friday the boy told him, "They asked for it."

Julian Sharmin, who works for the juvenile justice system, was the first of a half-dozen prosecution rebuttal witnesses who took the stand on the last day of testimony in the trial.

After they finished, the jury was sent home until Monday, when closing arguments will be presented and the case is expected to go to the jury.

Pittman, now 15, is charged with two counts of murder. If convicted, he would face 30 years to life in prison.

Pittman and his defense team have admitted he shot his grandparents. But the defense contends the antidepressant Zoloft clouded the boy's mind and sent him spinning out of control.

His lawyers argue he is innocent because he did not have the intent to kill the two people closest to him.

Sharmin said Pittman was angry with his grandparents for disciplining him after a school bus fight and threatening to send him back to an unhappy home in Florida.

"They could have sat me down and talked to me more," the boy said, according to the psychologist.

Pittman admitted in a confession to police that he loaded the shotgun that had been passed down from his grandfather to his father and then to him only a few days earlier, on Thanksgiving weekend, 2001.

He said he then walked into the grandparents' bedroom in the dark, aimed at the bed, and shot Joe and Joy Pittman four times.

The trial was moved from rural Chester, where the tragedy happened, to Charleston because of pretrial publicity in upstate South Carolina.

The case had been scheduled to go to the jury Friday, but prolonged wrangling by lawyers on both side has delayed that until Monday.

On Thursday, a state psychiatrist who began seeing Pittman two weeks after the killings testified he knew what he was doing was wrong.

Pamela Crawford said once Pittman decided to kill them, he waited until they were asleep before entering their bedroom with a shotgun.

"That's significant," she testified. "It shows planning. It shows at least some clear thought."

Crawford testified that Pittman told her he burned down his grandparents' home to ensure he had time to get away.

"It shows not only that he knew it was wrong, that he knew it was legally wrong, that he knew there would be some consequence," she testified.

The forensic psychiatrist said, "It is my opinion, based on all the information, that he would have been criminally responsible" for the crimes.

She said he had the mental capacity to understand and control what he was doing.

Crawford, who is employed by South Carolina's Department of Mental Health, began seeing Pittman on December 12, 2001, two weeks after his grandparents' deaths. She met with him a half-dozen times over the next two months.

Defense witness says teen was psychotic

Earlier Thursday, a retired Food and Drug Administration psychiatrist testified for the defense that Pittman was manic and psychotic when he shot and killed his grandparents.

Richard Kapit was an FDA safety officer who signed off on the approval of Prozac in 1989. In the early '90s, he reviewed the protocols for the first clinical testing of Zoloft and Paxil but did not have a role in their final FDA approval for treatment of depression in adults.

Kapit said Zoloft clouded Pittman's mind.

He testified, "I do believe he did not have the ability to form criminal intent on that date due to intoxication with Zoloft."

Kapit said the child was under the influence of Zoloft the rest of the night after the slayings and the following day.

"Chris Pittman was behaving in a way that was frantic, impulsive, reckless and extremely angry," he testified. "Those are characteristic behaviors of mania."

The psychiatrist interviewed Pittman last fall. He based his opinions on two days with the boy, plus the reports of a state-employed psychiatrist who had spent a longer time with Pittman.

Pittman had been sent to live with his grandparents in South Carolina after running away from an unhappy home in Florida, threatening to kill himself and spending six days at a psychiatric center.

That clinic put Pittman on the antidepressant Paxil, and Kapit said nurses' records revealed the boy started showing almost immediate signs of anger.

On his second day on the drug, Kapit said that a nurse wrote, "He needs help managing his anger." On the third day, the notes said, "Defiant, throwing things, angry."

When his grandmother took Pittman to a physician in Chester to renew the prescription, the doctor had no Paxil on hand, so he gave the boy a sample pack of Zoloft.

Neither Paxil nor Zoloft is approved for treating children with depression, but both are widely prescribed for younger patients anyway.

The FDA has backed off an earlier warning that antidepressants such as Zoloft can cause suicidal actions among children and teens taking those medications.

In a revised warning posted last week on its Web site, the agency said the drugs "increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in short-term studies of adolescents and children" with depression and other psychiatric disorders. (Full story)

News of the warning change surfaced this week in testimony at the Pittman trial.

Limiting the warning language to a risk seen in studies, rather than saying the drugs could cause suicidal behavior in younger patients, was a significant retreat for the FDA -- and came after months of pharmaceutical industry lobbying.


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