- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

COLUMBIA (AP) — Joe Pittman’s hands shook as he read his son’s confession to a roomful of strangers during a Food and Drug Administration hearing in Washington.

“I took everything out on my grandparents, who I loved so very much,” wrote Christopher Pittman, who was 12 at the time. “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.”

Authorities say Christopher Pittman shot his grandparents as they slept in their rural home three years ago because they had scolded him for fighting on the school bus.

Joe Pittman said he thinks his son killed because his sense of right and wrong was clouded by the antidepressant Zoloft. Joe Pittman spoke out against the drug in a hearing earlier this year. The boy, who had threatened suicide, had been put on the drug three weeks before the slayings, and his dose had been doubled two days earlier.

But prosecutors and police say Christopher Pittman’s actions during and after the November 2001 slayings show he clearly knew what he was doing was wrong.

Christopher Pittman, who turns 16 in April, is being prosecuted as an adult and faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted at his trial, set to start next month.

Karen Menzies, one of Christopher’s attorneys and a specialist in lawsuits against antidepressant makers, said medical research is available to support the Zoloft defense.

In the three years the teen has spent in jail awaiting trial, the FDA has become increasingly wary of doctors prescribing Zoloft and other antidepressants for children.

In October, the agency ordered that the drugs carry “black box” warnings — the government’s strongest warning short of a ban — about an increased risk of suicidal behavior in children.

A spokesman for the makers of Zoloft responded to inquiries by pointing to an October statement on the company’s Web site addressing concerns of suicide attempts, which says studies show “no statistically significant difference” between children using Zoloft and nonusers.

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