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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Controversy Rages Over Whether Zoloft is Helpful, Harmful; Muslim Parents Work to Reconcile with Children Adopted into Evangelical Home; Jury Selection Begins in Jackson Case
Aired January 31, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we are also looking at the sexual allegations against Michael Jackson and sex crimes that go well beyond this case.
And, in a few minutes, we'll take you to a California seminary for a story that will enrage you and break your heart.
And then a murder mystery that raises some frightening questions about an antidepressant your children may be taking.
Again, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
We begin with the latest trial of the century, the one that's being followed live every time Michael Jackson steps into or out of the Santa Barbara courthouse, the one where scores of fans behind a chain-linked fence shout and cheer his every move. He faces 10 felony allegations, including sexually molesting a teenage boy. Somehow, in this media circus, they have to find 12 people to listen impartially and judge him.
There are no cameras in the courtroom, so Associated Press correspondent Linda Deutsch, a veteran of the O.J. Simpson case, among others, is the news media's eyes and ears.
And Linda just left the courtroom minutes ago.
Linda, give us your impressions of what you witnessed there today. Welcome.
LINDA DEUTSCH, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, it was quite a day today, Paula.
Michael Jackson is a star. And no matter where he is, you get the idea that he is center stage. And, in this courtroom, he certainly was. This would have been a very dull day in an ordinary trial. It's just jury hardship questioning. But, with Michael there, it's different. He was resplendent in a white suit with a jeweled vest and a jeweled belt. And he looked every minute what he was. He smiled a lot. He was very upbeat today. He was joking with his lawyers.
He had to sit in the courtroom for a full hour waiting for the jurors to arrive. Didn't seem to bother him, and he seemed to be exuding confidence. ZAHN: You said he smiled. He was joking with his attorneys. If you were a prospective juror watching that, how would you interpret that? Was it appropriate?
DEUTSCH: The prospective jurors did not see that. No, the prospective jurors did not see that. That was before they came in. Once they came into the courtroom, Michael was very together. He did smile at them. He stood between his lawyers and he smiled as they walked into the courtroom.
After that, he just sat there expressionless without any reaction to anything that was going on. He listened to a lot of people tell a lot of very sad stories about why they could not serve on this jury. And he also heard one man make a declaration that he didn't want to be part of this, because he didn't want something he did to affect someone else's life forever.
ZAHN: You have spent a lot of time watching Michael Jackson's face closely. Did he seem to understand the seriousness of what's being thrown at him here?
DEUTSCH: I think he absolutely understands. He was very somber during the time that the jurors were speaking. He just sat there very seriously. His lawyer confers with him a great deal. Tom Mesereau obviously has become very close to Michael. And they confer constantly.
I think that he certainly understands what's going on here. And he has decided that he wants to go into this trial and feels confident that he's going to prevail. The prosecution took a very strange tack today in that district attorney Tom Sneddon did not even appear in the courthouse. He sent one of the assistants who has handled a great deal of the trial. Ron Zonen was the only prosecutor at the defense -- at the counsel table.
And so you had kind of an uneven balance. You had Michael there with five lawyers. And you had one Ron Zonen sitting there saying, I represent the people. I don't know if that was for any effect or whether others were just off working on other things.
ZAHN: Or it could be a pretty interesting tactic and be disarming in the process. Who knows. We'll be watching this for many months to come, Linda Deutsch.
DEUTSCH: Absolutely. It...
ZAHN: Thank you so much for your observations tonight. Appreciate it.
DEUTSCH: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: Our pleasure.
To most of us, there are two Michael Jacksons, the superstar whose music still drifts through shopping malls and supermarkets, and then there's the Michael Jackson of the tabloids. Jason Carroll looks into how anyone with such a familiar life story can ever hope for a fair trial.
MICHAEL JACKSON, DEFENDANT: My children and me.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all seems so familiar. Sunday, on the eve of his trial, Michael Jackson released a statement on the Internet.
JACKSON: I have great faith in our justice system. Please keep an open mind.
CARROLL: And, in fact, we have seen Jackson do this before. In 1993, after a teenage boy accused him of sexual molestation, Jackson released a four-minute statement proclaiming his innocence. The following year, an out-of-court settlement of the ensuring lawsuit reportedly cost Jackson $20 million.
Michael Jackson has been on everyone's cultural radar since he was a little boy. We all know his songs. His music videos, like "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Thriller," were the must-see TV of the '80s and '90s. Society can forgive celebrities for being eccentric, but sometimes the arc of celebrity goes through a crash-and-burn phase. Billions of people around the world saw Michael Jackson's looks change and his behavior change, and many made up their minds.
In New York.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't be able to be objective.
CARROLL: In Los Angeles.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The possibility of people getting on the jury that are already biased to Michael's guilt, it's inevitable.
CARROLL: Maybe not. Here's what the law requires.
LAURIE LEVENSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Michael Jackson is not entitled to a jury of other pop stars. That's not what jury of your peers means. It simply means a fair jury from the community that will keep an open mind and decide the case on the evidence.
CARROLL (on camera): The task of finding jurors is done during a process called voir dire. That's when attorneys on both sides can question potential jurors about their ability to be impartial. That process in the Jackson case could take up to two weeks.
JULIE BLACKMAN, TRIAL STRATEGY CONSULTANT: It will be challenging and it will be very important for them to asking detailed questions of people about what they do know and what they've thought about what they know, so that they get not only a sense of what information people have collected, but how they've passed judgment on it, if they have. CARROLL: Julie Blackman is a jury consultant who has worked on high-profile cases such as Martha Stewart and hotel heiress Leona Helmsley. Her advice to attorneys in the Jackson case?
BLACKMAN: I think they have to talk to the jurors about the importance of separating the press reports from what happens in the courtroom.
CARROLL: And the press reports are sure to keep coming as the Jackson trial draws near.
ZAHN: That was our Jason Carroll reporting for us tonight.
So, with all the notoriety, what are both sides looking for in a potential jury?
I'm joined by Linda Fairstein, the former head of New York City's sex crimes prosecution unit and the author of a new crime novel called "Entombed," and jury consultant Richard Gabriel, who worked for the defense in another trial of the century, the O.J. Simpson trial.
Good to see both of you.
LINDA FAIRSTEIN, AUTHOR, "ENTOMBED": Hi.
ZAHN: Are you comfortable with this being called the new trial of the new century? Who knows what it's going to turn in to.
FAIRSTEIN: ... new century, sure.
ZAHN: So, if you had your pick of any kind of jury you could put together for the prosecution, what would it look like?
FAIRSTEIN: Well, I think the prosecution wants a very stable jury in this case, probably older people, who are not likely to have been affected as greatly by the pop star nature of Jackson's celebrity and fame.
I want parents or grandparents. I want people who would worry about a guy, a 46-year-old guy, who says, I bring strange children into my bed.
ZAHN: Well, would not most parents be worried about that?
FAIRSTEIN: Well, you could have some alternative -- obviously, the parents who let their kids go to Neverland weren't that concerned. And what we would call in the business alternative lifestyle, people who are a little more liberal, free thinking might, off the bat, be more susceptible to that.
ZAHN: And, Richard, I assume that's what you want to put up for the defense, right?
RICHARD GABRIEL, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, clearly, the defense really wants jurors who do have an open mind, who definitely want I guess people who are comfortable with displays of affection, who are comfortable with people being open with their kids, who are comfortable with their kids going over to other people's houses and sleeping over. That sort of open lifestyle is something the defense clearly wants.
And they will also have what I would call more of a safe world outlook, jurors who feel that basically people are good, there are people who do good in the community and aren't necessarily out to sort of harm children. So, those are a few of the profile things that I think the defense is looking for. Clearly, though, the double-edged sword here does have to do with parents. Parents can be horrified by these allegations and can be prejudiced from the outside.
They can also be extremely critical of the parents in this case and feel somehow that they're manipulating the child in order to, I guess, orchestrate a lawsuit that may be coming down the pike. So that's a double-edged sword for both sides.
ZAHN: But, Linda, given that, how do you glean this from this process these jurors are put through? You have done this before. You to make some quick snap judgments. That's redundant, but you have to make some fast ones.
FAIRSTEIN: You do, and you make them on certain amount of information that's going to -- today was just sort of the hardship part of the excuses.
But these questionnaires are going to ask very probing, personal questions. You're going to try to get at attitudes behind the questions. And then you're making decisions. The worst thing, Paula, in my experience is the high-profile trial really attracts an unusual kind of juror often. You may have 10 of the 12 being perfectly stable. You may have two who are throwing themselves into this because they think they're going to write the next screenplay or made- for-TV movie about their experience.
And you really have to be careful, because the sad fact is, people sometimes lie to become involved in these high-profile cases. So, you can hire jury consultants. You can be the best advocate for your position that you are and still sometimes you're rolling the dice.
ZAHN: Richard, how important is body language when a juror, potential juror is being looked at, and appearance?
GABRIEL: Oh, it's absolutely crucial, especially in a case like this. The issues and attitudes involved in this case are so volatile, so inflammatory that you can't just hear a juror say how they feel about potentially pornographic or adult material. You have to see how they react to it, if their body tightens up, if they flinch, if they pause to long.
If their words are too perfect, in other words, they're trying so hard to convince you that they can be fair, all of those can be signals that there's something else, some other attitude, some other agenda that's kind of going on behind the scenes that you have to watch out for. Body language is extremely important.
ZAHN: Richard is a guy who obviously gets paid to use his keen insights in helping teams put together jurors. How often are you wrong when you make these choices, Linda? Have you been burned very often?
FAIRSTEIN: Oh, I've been burned. And I think everybody, including jury consultants, have been burned.
I remember in a very high-profile trial once I was involved in, the defense attorney and his client would confer with the jury consultant. They would leave notes behind at the end of the day. And the court officers used to read the notes and laugh, because both sides could make entirely different assumptions about the same people, people -- when you rely too much on body language early on, people would smile and nod and try and bond with one side or the other and walk out the door and do the same thing to your opponent. So it's a very tricky business. And there are experts to help navigate it.
ZAHN: Richard, need a real brief answer to this. Is your sense that Michael Jackson is going to get a fair trial?
GABRIEL: I think he can get a fair trial.
A very in-depth process has to be undertaken to really hear from the jurors themselves how they feel about the court issues, to find out really whether they can be fair. Pornographic material, prior family experience, abuse, sexuality, all of those issues have to come from the jurors' own words in order to make an honest assessment about whether people are going to be fair, whether they've heard too much pretrial publicity and formed opinions about the case.
ZAHN: Well, you two have been very helpful to us tonight.
Linda Fairstein, Richard Gabriel, thank you for your time.
FAIRSTEIN: Good to see you.
GABRIEL: Thanks, Paula.
ZAHN: Just ahead, a murder case that puts a teenager and a popular antidepressant on trial.
ZAHN (voice-over): In the ashes, a gruesome discovery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A body was discovered. Actually, two bodies was discovered.
ZAHN: Grandparents shot to death, the confessed killer, their own 12-year-old grandson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had these command hallucinations inside of his head going kill, kill, kill.
ZAHN: Now a jury must decide, was the popular antidepressant Zoloft a prescription for murder?
And coming up next, there are dark secrets behind the walls of this California seminary, a dishonor roll of priests, who's who of accused pedophiles.
PAULA ZAHN NOW continues right after this.
ZAHN: There is no way to overstate the significance of the case against Michael Jackson. He is, after all, accused of damaging a child. But also at stake, Jackson's career, representation and enormous wealth.
Here's Mary Snow.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Jackson's legal troubles have implications beyond the courthouse, posing a threat to his financial empire.
ALAN LIGHT, "TRACKS": Anything short of being fully exonerated in this trial is going to be sort of a death blow to him professionally.
SNOW: Music industry observers can't put an exact figure on Jackson's net worth. And his advisers keep the information close to the vest.
QUESTION: Mr. Jackson is in financial trouble. Can you clarify that, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, do we look worried?
QUESTION: But is he in financial trouble?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course not.
SNOW: In his heyday, with hits like "Thriller," some estimate he was worth as much as $900 million. But with no tours, no new albums and lavish spending, like the upkeep of his Neverland Ranch, Jackson's financing have been shrinking.
Industry observers say his main sources of income are the rights to music catalogs, including a stake with Sony/ATV of 251 Beatles songs.
BRUNO DEL GRANADO, ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCER: Michael, if you count his music publishing catalog, is probably worth several hundred million dollars.
SNOW: Jackson has reportedly taken out $270 million in loans from Bank of America that are backed by his two music publishing catalogs. While his own new music may not be the bread and butter of his bank account these days, he has flocks of fans outside the United States.
DEL GRANADO: He has a fairly strong and consistent following outside the United States, like a lot of '80s superstars.
SNOW: Unlike the '80s, though, when Jackson was known only for his talent, today's generation of young people know him mainly because by the controversy around him.
LIGHT: For him to go on and rebuild and shift the focus away from the Michael Jackson freak show and on to Michael Jackson the brilliant singer and dancer and performer, you know, he's got to hope that everything works absolutely for the best and then decide that he wants it bad enough to go for that. It's possible. It's a long, long shot.
ZAHN: And Mary Snow joins us now.
So, in spite of these bankruptcy concerns, it is an established fact that this guy blows through a lot of money. He has a big lifestyle.
SNOW: Very lavish lifestyle.
And just a couple of months ago, "The Los Angeles Times" was reporting that he was renting a home in Beverly Hills for like $60,000 a month. And we've seen -- it's been well documented. There was that BBC documentary a couple of years ago that showed him on a spending spree spending something like six million dollars in a couple of hours. Now, also, Neverland Ranch has dozens of employees. And there have been published reports saying the maintenance on that alone is about $2 million a month. So, he still has some pretty lavish spending habits.
ZAHN: So, could this case break the bank? Because you also know that he makes, what, $40 million a year off of his Beatles transactions.
ZAHN: He owns the rights to those songs. SNOW: And that really, as industry observers say, is a land mine, because, overall, it's about $80 million a year estimated by published reports for the rights of those Beatles songs. And he has a stake, a 50 percent stake with Sony. So he's still generating a lot of money on those royalties.
ZAHN: Mary snow, very interesting. Thanks for joining us tonight.
ZAHN: Appreciate it.
ZAHN: Coming up next is sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't understand why this priest was wanting me to do things which all my years of Catholic education taught me were wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Shedding some light on the very dark secrets of a California seminary when we come back.
ZAHN: Lives have been destroyed, faith shattered. Accusations of sexual abuse by clergy have cost the Catholic Church hundreds of millions of dollars. But now we're learning of one seminary that, in addition to being a training ground for priests, may also have been a breeding ground for sexual abuse.
Here's Drew Griffin with more.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has dominated this hill in Camarillo, California, since the 1930s, Saint John's Seminary, a school for young men aspiring for the priesthood. But behind these walls is a dark secret. This seminary's alumni roll contains a who's who of accused Catholic priest pedophiles.
Richard Sipe, a former priest and now an expert on the clergy sexual abuse in the United States, says this one seminary has a shameful record.
RICHARD SIPE, FORMER PRIEST: I've been involved in about 200 cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in this country. Of those cases, Saint John's comes up over and over and over again.
GRIFFIN: They are now infamous faces in Southern California's ongoing church sex scandal. Michael Baker, who graduated from Saint John's in 1974, is reported by the archdiocese to have abused as many as 23 boys. Patrick Ziemann, a bishop, who had to resign over allegations of sexual abuse, graduated in '67. Ziemann had no comment to CNN.
And Michael Wempe, who soon goes on trial for alleged sexual abuse of a minor, which he denies, graduated from Saint John's in 1966. A review of the Los Angeles Archdiocese's own report on sex abuse by priests reveals 18 percent of Saint John's graduates between 1962 and 1976 went on to be accused of abuse. For the graduating class of 1972, the rate of those accused would reach one-third.
In that class was Michael Harris, a priest who would become a principal and counselor to young boys interested in entering the priesthood, then, according to one of those boys, took their faith and destroyed it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a shell of what I could have been. I'm not a properly formed adult.
GRIFFIN: John Grimley (ph) wanted to be a Catholic priest and likely would have been a good one. He was a successful Catholic high school student, college and law student. He once helped write speeches for the first President Bush. But he never fulfilled what he says was his true ambition, to become a good Catholic priest, because he says he was sexually and emotionally abused by a bad one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't understand why this priest was wanting me to do things which all my years of Catholic education taught me were wrong.
GRIFFIN: Other accusers of Father Michael Harris have settled multimillion dollar lawsuits with the church, but Harris has always maintained his innocence.
For Grimley, there's nothing innocent about what he says Harris did to him. He says he's a survivor of a dark journey that began on a sunny California day at Saint John's. He was a high school freshman on a field trip to find out what it would be like to attend a seminary. But the priest who was escorting him, Grimley says, would turn out to be a pedophile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he said, I want you to come and talk to me about your interest in the priesthood.
GRIFFIN: He ignored the warnings of a Saint John's student on that sunny day who try to do tell him about the strange goings-on behind the seminary doors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said something that I'll never forget. It was chilling. He said that you should be very careful about going here. You probably should not go here. There's a lot of weird stuff going on.
GRIFFIN: Former priest Richard Sipe says the pedophiles of the Catholic Church are byproducts of a seminary system that keeps all sorts of secrets.
SIPE: The problem is the number of bishops and priests who are sexually active, not in criminal ways, but with women, with men and with each other. And that whole atmosphere pervades in seminaries.
GRIFFIN: Sexual activity among priests is not illegal, of course, and, according to Sipe, by itself, is not a problem for the church, except, he says, that the church has tried to keep it a secret. And that created a deeper and darker secret, the small percentage of priests who abuse children.
(on camera): And, at Saint John's, where you have graduate after graduate becoming accused after accused, could there be any way the L.A. Archdiocese hierarchy didn't know about what was happening?
SIPE: No. No. There is no way they did not know.
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY, LOS ANGELES ARCHDIOCESE: Well, I think that is not correct.
GRIFFIN: Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop of Los Angeles. His responsibilities include Saint John's. And he says there has been no problem at Saint John's under his watch.
MAHONY: Absolutely not, not during my time here, either while I was in the seminary or as archbishop. I was unaware of any activity like that. And I think that the men who were rectors and priests who were in charge would have certainly not only made sure it didn't happen, but also would have told me about it.
GRIFFIN: But in what could be a turning point for the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Bishops have decided to seek out the root cause of the growing clergy sexual abuse scandal in the United States. And more than 100 seminaries, including Saint John's, will be visited, students, faculty and graduates questioned. And at the top of list will be questions about sex, homosexuality and promiscuity.
Richard Sipe calls it a start, but says the Vatican will not like the result.
SIPE: And so you have an atmosphere not that is coming in from the bottom, but that comes down from the top and then is tolerated from the top.
GRIFFIN: For John Grimley, who now isolates himself in London, the Catholic Church's investigation into how Michael Harris and other accused pedophiles were allowed to enter the priesthood comes too late.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We live like hermits. We live broken, shattered lives, because when trust is so savagely taken, then you're just barely surviving.
ZAHN: That was Drew Griffin reporting for us tonight.
A little bit later on in the week, we'll take a look at the trial of another accused pedophile priest in the Boston area. Coming up, a mother wronged, her children taken away from her. How could it happen right here in America? We'll show you.
And just ahead, did he commit murder? He confessed, but did a popular drug make him do it?
Find out when we come back.
ZAHN: In Charleston, South Carolina today, opening statements started in a horrifying case. A 15-year-old boy who admits he killed his grandparents and then set fire to their house. But this isn't your typical murder mystery. We know young Chris Pittman did it. The mystery is why. According to the defense, Zoloft made him do it.
Well, the Food and Drug Administration says 11 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for children in 2002. Pittman's lawyer maintains that these drugs can lead to violence toward other. Zoloft's maker Pfizer emphatically denies that. And as our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reports with so many children taking the drugs, a lot of parents will be paying close attention to this case.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At dawn that November morning as the ashes of the house began to cool, firemen found the first corpse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bodies were discovered -- actually two bodies were discovered.
COHEN: Joe Frank Pittman and his wife Joy asleep in bed, killed by two shotgun blasts. Their 12-year-old grandson Chris was missing. Hunters found him in the woods in the next county in rural South Carolina. The boy blamed a black stranger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically told them that he was abducted by a black man and he had killed his grandparents and they're in the house.
COHEN: But Chris' story soon changed.
Did he confess?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gave us a statement stating that he shot and killed his grandparents.
JOHN JUSTICE, CHESTER COUNTY PROSECUTOR: This kid (UNINTELLIGIBLE) his grandparents, went to bed, went to sleep, came in and shot them in the face, in the mouth with a shotgun, as cold and brutal an act as I've witnessed in 25 years of prosecuting.
JOE D. PITTMAN, FATHER: The shotgun my son used was the first gun my dad ever bought me when I was a boy. I let him bring it back with him and that's the one he used. COHEN: Chris' father Joe Pittman was bewildered and battered by the loss of his parents and the loss of his son.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now I don't see my son. I don't see that light in his eyes. I see darkness.
COHEN: Beneath this smile, Chris Pittman was a troubled child. Court files show his mother abandoned him as a baby. He had a rocky relationship with his father and ran away from his Florida home when he was 12. He was sent briefly to a psychiatric treatment center then went to live with his grandparents outside Chester, South Carolina where he spent summer vacations. Mitchell Snelgrove was one of Chris' best friends.
MITCHELL SNELGROVE, CHRIS PITTMAN'S FRIEND: I don't know many people who would get up on their grandparents' laps and say, I love you, pop, in front of their friends but that's what he did.
COHEN: And Mitchell's father, Chris Snelgrove was the family pastor. He says when Chris came back that fall, he'd changed.
REV. CHRIS SNELGROVE, FAMILY PASTOR: Just knew that he was different toward me and that he seemed to never really look me in the face or to talk directly to me.
COHEN: Chris was having problems at school. He was accused of choking a younger boy. His grandfather threatened to send him back to Florida. And that night by his own admission, the 12-year-old boy took the shotgun from the gun safe, went into the bedroom in the dark, killed his grandparents and then used candles and lighter fluid to set the house on fire. Now 15, Chris Pittman has been in this juvenile detention center for more than three years. Pastor Snelgrove visited him and left still puzzled by the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
C. SNELGROVE: His answers changed all the time. And that was the flaky thing about those first few months was that it was a mystery to everybody. I believe to Chris, too.
COHEN: But now, Chris, his family and his lawyers are blaming the gruesome murders on a pill, Zoloft, a popular antidepressant.
Andy Vickery is Chris' lawyer.
ANDY VICKERY, DEFENSE LAWYER: He had these command hallucinations inside of his head. They didn't come externally, they came from inside of his head, you know, kill, kill, kill.
COHEN: According to Vickery, the family doctor prescribed Zoloft to Chris on November 5, 2001, just days after his arrival in South Carolina. He killed his grandparents on the night of November 28. Some time in between by Chris' account, the doctor doubled his dosage.
Zoloft is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be prescribed to children and teens with depression but often is. Among the defense witnesses a former FDA official who helped green light these antidepressants, Dr. Richard Kapit. He interviewed Chris Pittman and believed Zoloft made him psychotic.
DR. RICHARD KAPIT, PSYCHIATRIST: He was hallucinating at the time and he was responding to those hallucinations. I've looked at statements around the time of the event. I've talked to people who knew Chris Pittman. And all of those things make me think that he was under a -- the influence of Zoloft at the time and that this affected his mind, and it was in that abnormal state of mind that he committed these crimes.
COHEN: For more than a decade, a controversy has swirled around whether Zoloft and similar antidepressants can make people violent. Last year the Food and Drug Administration held hearings. Chris' father read a letter Chris had written from jail.
PITTMAN: "When I was lying in my bed that night I couldn't sleep because my voice in my head kept echoing through my mind telling me to kill them."
COHEN: 250 million prescriptions have been written for Zoloft. And Pfizer which makes the drug denies it was connected to the deaths. The company issued this statement.
"There is no scientific evidence to suggest that Zoloft contributes to violent behavior in either adults or children. It's unfortunate that unfounded allegations in this case may create undue concern on the part of the patients who benefit most from this medicine."
The FDA has never stated that there is a proven link between antidepressants and violence towards others. But the FDA is concerned about suicidal behavior among children taking Zoloft and similar drugs. Last fall the agency told doctors to watch their younger patients carefully for signs of agitation, aggression, anxiety, and hostility.
But that FDA warning came almost three years after the murderers of the Joy and Joe Pittman. Chris Pittman is now on trial as an adult. If convicted, he faces 30 years to life in prison. Pastor Snelgrove has reached his verdict.
C. SNELGROVE: I firmly believe that Joe and Joy would forgive, they would beg and plead with all of us to forgive Christopher.
ZAHN: And Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from the site of the trial in Charleston, South Carolina. Fascinating story. Elizabeth, parts of it make us all confused. In the year 2002 we know that 11 million prescriptions were put out for children to take Zoloft. But that's without the FDA approving its use. How does that happen?
COHEN: Right. The FDA never approved the use of Zoloft for depressed children. And it does seem strange but it's actually a very common practice. Drugs are often approved by the FDA just an adult use but they get used in children. This happens with drugs of many different kinds. Doctors try them, they find that they work and they prescribe them to them. So what the doctor did here is not unusual, Paula.
ZAHN: How concerned should parents be about it whose children are on Zoloft? We heard the statement by Pfizer, but nevertheless, people watch these trials and it can make them pretty nervous.
COHEN: What the Food and Drug Administration says to do is to watch a child who has been prescribed one of these SSRI antidepressants, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, et cetera, especially in the first few months that they're taking the drug and especially when the doctor changes the doses. They should be watched. Are they behaving differently? Do they seem like a different kind of kid? Do they seem particularly anxious or hostile or aggressive? And they say that not just doctors but also the families need to watch the kids for these signs.
ZAHN: Yes. Some important red flags that everybody should be aware of. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.
There is another side to all of this, of course. When we come back, a success story, treatment that may have saved a teenager's life.
ZAHN: No matter how the Christopher Pittman case turns out, the one we just discussed, no one can argue that antidepressants like Zoloft have helped many children. In fact being it's made an enormous difference in their lives.
ZAHN (voice-over): Megan Matthews today is very different than she was just four years ago.
MEGAN MATTHEWS, ZOLOFT PATIENT: I feel great. I mean, looking back on it, it's almost hard to believe that I'm the same person as I was back then.
ZAHN: Back then, Megan wore the same smile, but she used it to hide her clinical depression. In high school, as her illness progressed, Megan began mutilating herself.
MATTHEWS: It gave me an outward reason for why I was feeling so awful internally.
ZAHN: To understand her pain, you only had to look at her arm.
DAVID UHLMANN, MEGAN'S STEPDAD: If you looked at Megan, you wouldn't have known, but if you -- if you saw her arm, they were mostly shallow, almost superficial cuts, but they -- you know, they ran the length of her forearm, and when I first saw it, it was the kind that took your breath away. I mean, it was so sad.
And she was clearly so sad, and she was struggling with so much, and she was, you know, it was more than she could deal with. ZAHN: A deep cut to her arm at the age of 16 landed her in the hospital. The suicide gesture led to intense therapy. She also began taking Cerezone (ph), an antidepressant like Zoloft and Prozac.
UHLMANN: It's not an easy decision to decide to put a child on medication, but it really was a no-brainer in Megan's case.
ZAHN: Megan's mom, Virginia, saw immediate results.
VIRGINIA MATTHEWS UHLMANN, MEGAN'S MOTHER: Absolutely, night and day.
ZAHN: FDA hearings last fall presented no scientific evidence linking antidepressants to suicide, but parents themselves testified about the suicides of their children.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was not a child who had ever been depressed or had suicidal...
GAIL GRIFFITH, AUTHOR, "WILL'S CHOICE": You were overwhelmed by what you had heard, and unfortunately, not enough people come out and talk about the benefits that they've derived from antidepressants. You hear the horror stories.
ZAHN: Gail Griffith served on the FDA advisory committee looking into the risk of antidepressants for younger patients. She knows firsthand about depression and that the disease itself carries a risk of suicide. At 40, she was diagnosed with major depression, and her son, Will, also suffers from it.
GRIFFITH: Given that now it's been 13 years that I've taken antidepressants and feel that they really are a life saver for me, I don't have any concern for myself, but in the course of his recovery in the three months after he was treated, we noticed an uptick in his mood, a real improvement, and thought that they were on the right track.
ZAHN: But one day, Will took an overdose of his medication and nearly died. His suicide attempt is the subject of his mother's book that will be out in May. Was it because of the drugs or was it because the drugs weren't working? Nobody really knows, but Griffith points to a different possibility.
GRIFFITH: When people are beginning to come out of a depression, they may have been too lethargic or too ill to act on a suicidal impulse prior to a lift in mood. But once they are feeling better, they can act on a suicidal impulse, which I don't know how you prevent that or how you -- you watch for that. It's a very scary thing, and especially if you're the parent. You just don't know what to do.
ZAHN: Untreated depression is risky, and finding the right treatment is never easy. But a combination of good doctors, therapy and properly monitored medication could mean the difference between life and death.
MATTHEWS: I feel wonderful. I can live a normal life. I can be proud of my accomplishments. And I mean, I just see this, overcoming this disease or not necessarily overcoming it but learning to live with it is just another one of my accomplishments. And so yes, I just feel really great about how far I've come.
ZAHN: As we've heard tonight, the FDA has not approved anti- pressants -- or antidepressants like Zoloft in the use of children, but we've also seen there are success stories to talk about.
Time to check in with Larry King now for a preview of what he's got on in about 11 minutes from now. Hi, Larry, how are you doing tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": I'm fine, darling. I like the color. I like the turtleneck. Nice look.
ZAHN: Thank you.
KING: Nice presentation, nice framing. Good. I approve again.
ZAHN: I'm glad we have met your approval this evening.
KING: You're on a roll.
ZAHN: Thank you.
KING: You're on a roll.
ZAHN: Yes. And our week started early last night.
KING: And we've got a late night on Wednesday. When are you -- are you on before the State of the Union?
ZAHN: We're on, yes, for a full hour before State of the Union.
KING: We're on after.
Anyway, tonight it's Michael Jackson's story. His trial begins today with jury selection. We've got a whole host of guests: Nancy Grace, Cynthia McFadden, Jan Carl (ph), Diane Dimond (ph), Ted Rowlands, Michael Cardoza (ph), drop-ins, tapes, highlights, phone calls.
The Michael Jackson case is underway. And the one thing we guarantee, we will be fair. We will cover it from all sides and present it in that...
ZAHN: You always are. So Larry, you just gave us that lofty list of people you booked. Is there anybody you didn't get that you wanted to talk to tonight?
KING: I don't know. I have to ask. I don't -- Saul Gloveman (ph) was sick.
ZAHN: I don't know Saul. But I'm sure he would have educated... KING: Neither do I, but he was dying to get on.
ZAHN: All right, Larry. Have a good show. See you at 9 p.m.
ZAHN: Coming up next, a wrongful accusation that leads to an even greater tragedy. A mother's children taken away from her, taught that her parents would forever burn in hell. How it happened when we come back.
ZAHN: Many of this hour's stories revolved around a simple question: what's best for children?
Well, 20 years ago the state of Michigan decided to take a Muslim's woman's children away from her. They were placed with an evangelical Christian family. You be the judge as to whether this fundamental change was for the best.
Here's David Mattingly.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are the warm smiles of a family that might have been.
REHAB AMER, CHILDREN'S MOTHER: Nobody would listen.
MATTINGLY: In 1985, Rehab Amer was accused of killing her 2- year-old son Samir, whom she says fell in a bathtub. The medical examiner at the time concluded homicide. It proved to be the one piece of paper and the one word that would destroy a Michigan family.
AMER: The nightmare. It was shocking. I believe that somehow God was not going to let go.
MATTINGLY: Worried the other three Amer children, a newborn, a 3-year-old and the 2-year-old twin of the dead boy, would become targets of physical abuse, the state of Michigan quickly took them into foster care, and that's where they stayed for seven years.
Even though a jury acquitted their mother, child welfare officials were not convinced the children would be safe. The death certificate with the terrible word remained.
AMER: They said, let this go. I said I can't. This -- this is a piece of paper to you, but this is my son.
Oh, boy, isn't it good?
MATTINGLY: For years, Rehab and Ahmed Amer endured only supervised visits. In 1992, they lost all legal custody when their Muslim-born children were adopted into another loving family, the Stampers. The two couples tried to maintain cordial relations, but instead of learning the ways of Islam, the Amer children were raised Pentecostal, charismatic Christians.
AMER: It breaks my heart, because they believe that we're all going to go to hell. That really breaks my heart.
MATTINGLY: Young Mohamed Ali changed his name to Adam. Sisters Zohir (ph) and Zaina (ph) became Suzanne and Zinnie. As a teenager, Adam warned his birth mother that those not accepting Jesus Christ would die and go to hell, a comment today he says he regrets and chalks up to immaturity.
(on camera) Do you believe that God saved you by taking you away from your birth parents?
ADAM STAMPER, ADOPTED SON: Yes, I believe that. I believe that. And knowing that, it's hard because then you just -- because then that hurts your birth parents, like -- it's like a slap -- it's just like God just slapped them in the face, you know, and which I don't think that is at all. You know, God loves everybody.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): But this devout 22-year-old believes God had a hand in the tragedy that tore his family apart.
STAMPER: To think that, you know, my brother died so that I could be in a Christian home, knowing that someone died, you know, so you have a different life, it's hard just to, you know, to grasp and hold.
AMER: It breaks my heart for my children to believe that God wanted them to be taken away from us.
MATTINGLY: Rehab Amer decided in 2003 she had to remove all doubt about what happened in the family's bathtub all those years ago. So they petitioned a court to have the body of little Samir exhumed.
The Amers had long argued the signs of bone fractures in the baby's X-rays were the result of a rare brittle bone disease and not abuse. And last week, a judge ruled baby Samir's death was an accident, changing the word that had haunted them for so long.
AMER: There's Mohamed Ali's first toy (ph).
MATTINGLY: But the years of separation have taken their toll. The Amers keep rooms for their children with beds that have never been slept in. After 19 years, 19 attorneys and $600,000 in legal fees, the hopes of reuniting as the Muslim family they once were are gone.
STAMPER: I think their expectations were too high.
MATTINGLY: The children, meanwhile, are adults now, trying to make their own way in the world, while bridging two religions and two families that love them.
STAMPER: We are a family, you know. I was raised a Stamper, but I was born an Amer, you know? And our families are connected now.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: That was David Mattingly reporting from Dearborn, Michigan. Wow.
We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Tomorrow, the night before President Bush delivers his State of the Union address, what some Americans are doing to make a difference and to change their communities. You're going to meet real people tackling some of the tough issues that impact all of our lives every day. It is called "THE STATE OF THE STATES: A PAULA ZAHN SPECIAL REPORT." We hope you'll join us for it. That gets underway tomorrow night at 8 Eastern Time.
And then on Wednesday, the president delivers the State of the Union. Please join us at 8 p.m., leading into his address, which gets underway at 9 p.m. straight up. The president is always on time, so it should start just then at the top of the hour.
We want to thank you so much for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next with much more on jury selection at the Michael Jackson trial. Again, thanks so much for joining us tonight. We'll be back same time same place tomorrow night. Good night.
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