It's a move that attorney Andy Vickery hopes to thwart as he argues the murder appeal of Christopher Pittman on Thursday before the South Carolina Supreme Court.
“Absent some ruling from this court in that intervening week, Chris will be transferred to the big house with the bad guys,” Vickery said Wednesday.
Pittman was convicted last year of murder in the 2001 shooting deaths of his grandparents. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Defense attorneys argued that Pittman, who was 12 at the time of the killings, was involuntarily intoxicated by the antidepressant Zoloft and did not know right from wrong.
Prosecutors countered that the youth's actions, such as setting a fire in his grandparents' home and lying to investigators, show he knew the killings were wrong.
Vickery plans to argue in his appeal that sentencing a juvenile to 30 years amounts to unconstitutional punishment. He also maintains Pittman did not have the capacity to form criminal intent.
“I think this case presents a unique and perhaps even historic opportunity for this court to say what is and is not OK in terms of dispensing justice to children in the state of South Carolina,” he said.
If the state Supreme Court doesn't rule on the appeal before Pittman's Oct. 12 prison transfer, Vickery said he will ask the justices to issue an order keeping him in a juvenile prison until they rule.
Pfizer Inc., the manufacturer of Zoloft, said in a statement after the verdict last year that Zoloft “didn't cause his problems, nor did the medication drive him to commit murder. On these two points, both Pfizer and the jury agree.”
Zoloft is the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the United States, with 32.7 million prescriptions written in 2003. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Zoloft and other antidepressants to carry “black box” warnings – the government's strongest warning short of a ban – about an increased risk of suicidal behavior in children.
Janet Sisk, director of the Juvenile Justice Foundation, said she has been profoundly affected by Pittman's case and has written legislation to change the way children are prosecuted and sentenced in South Carolina.
“Christopher's Bill” would require that a teen who commits a crime under the influence of a prescribed mind-altering drug be prosecuted as a juvenile, she said.
Sisk and about 20 other Pittman supporters, including his maternal grandmother, gathered Wednesday night at the state Supreme Court building for a candlelight vigil. Many wore buttons with a picture of a preteen Pittman.