Christopher Pittman took a gamble and lost, state attorneys said Tuesday, and he does not deserve a new trial after being convicted of killing his grandparents when he was 12.
The state Attorney General's office claims in court documents the judge who ordered a new trial for Chester County's Christopher Pittman was wrong when he ruled in July that Pittman's lawyers botched the case.
The court filings come as prosecutors try to avoid a retrial in the case, which gained national attention in 2005 when Pittman and his lawyers claimed "involuntary intoxication" from the antidepressant Zoloft caused him to shoot Joy and Joe Pittman to death in their home in 2001, then burn the house down to cover up the crime.
The attorney general's office claims Pittman's 2005 trial lawyers - who had the most experience in the nation with antidepressant-related cases and specialized in suing drug companies - were a "dream team."
If they were unprepared and unqualified, state attorneys said, then "99.9 percent of defendants in South Carolina have had worse, since rarely does a defendant get such an impressive array of expertise and legal talent."
The attorney general argues the lawyers did a good job, but jurors convicted Pittman anyway.
The trial lawyers presented experts about the drugs and their effects, according to court documents. In the trial, though, Pittman simply took a chance at acquittal in a "tough case" and lost.
The attorney general calls Judge Roger Young's July order of a new trial an "unwarranted expansion" into "hindsight."
"The state would respectfully assert this court should reconsider its ruling, deny relief, and not allow this case to run afoul of the maxim that decision makers should not allow hard cases to make bad law," Creighton Waters, senior assistant attorney general, wrote in court papers.
Pittman, serving a 30-year sentence for the double-murder, sued his trial lawyers after his conviction, claiming they did not explain a potential plea deal, and that he would have accepted a plea to voluntary manslaughter with the potential for a shorter sentence.
Ruling in that civil suit, Judge Young wrote in July that defense lawyers violated Pittman's rights by not pursuing a potential plea deal more vigorously and not telling Pittman's court-appointed guardian ad litem of a potential plea.
The judge also ruled that Pittman's trial lawyers in 2005 told Pittman they were convinced the jury would blame Zoloft for the double murder. Pittman claimed he was never told that a jury could blame Zoloft and still convict him.
Pittman remains in prison and has not asked for a bond hearing, even though the judge's July order vacated his conviction and sentence pending a retrial.
Prosecutors never formally extended a plea deal although the trial judge in 2005 urged a plea in a private hearing, and Pittman's lawyers also never seriously considered any plea deal that would keep him in prison after he turned 21.
Spokesman Mark Plowden said the attorney general's argument is that:
Pittman's lawyers knew the law.
Pittman shouldn't get a new trial because of a possible plea offer that never materialized.
He should not be rewarded with a new trial when his lawyers' assessment of the chances of winning turned out to be wrong.
Some legal experts have said that if a new trial does occur, Pittman probably would take a plea deal rather than risk another conviction for double-murder and the potential for a sentence ranging from 30 years to life.
Pittman's current lawyer, Seth Farber of New York, declined to comment Tuesday on the attorney general's filing or on any other aspect of the case.
Pittman - who won a huge victory in getting his conviction overturned in the July ruling - also has asked Judge Young to change a part of the July ruling.
Before the 2005 trial, a judge ruled that Pittman could be tried as an adult rather than as a juvenile in Family Court, where his maximum penalty would have been prison until age 21.
Farber filed a motion in the case alleging that Pittman's case never should have been moved to state District Court.
Young's July ruling stated Pittman's first lawyer before the case was moved to adult court was ineffective in fighting that transfer to adult court, but the case would have ended up in adult court anyway, because of the heinousness of the crimes and other factors.