Pittman files suit against state

CHESTER -- Christopher Pittman, the Chester County teenager serving 30 years in prison for killing his grandparents when he was 12 years old, has filed a civil lawsuit against the state claiming his lawyers were ineffective during his 2005 trial.

Pittman, now 18, was tried as an adult and convicted of two counts of murder.

In the lawsuit, first reported Friday at heraldonline.com, Pittman alleges his attorneys were "ineffective for misadvising me not to accept the guilty plea for ten (10) yrs., because I would be acquitted at trial," according to court documents filed last week at the Chester County Courthouse.

The court papers do not specify the charge to which Pittman would have pleaded guilty.

In the lawsuit, Pittman asks the court for one of four outcomes:

• His sentence be thrown out and he get released from prison;

• His sentence be lessened;

• He be resentenced as a youthful offender;

• Or he receive a new trial.

The state attorney general's office represents South Carolina in lawsuits against the state. No one at the attorney general's office could be reached for comment Friday.

Pittman also claims in the lawsuit that his attorneys didn't advise him of his constitutional rights, which he alleges he didn't understand because he was a child.

Pittman was 15 at the time of the trial.

The lawsuit is the first time an allegation of lawyer ineffectiveness has been raised in this case, according to court records. The case also has "Newly Discovered Evidence," the lawsuit states, although it doesn't specify what kind of evidence was found.

Pittman was represented during the trial, held in Charleston, by Andy Vickery and Paul Waldner of Texas and Henry Mims of Greer. Vickery and Mims could be not be reached for comment Friday.

Waldner said he could not discuss the lawsuit because he had not seen a copy of it. He also noted that he couldn't discuss conversations between Pittman and himself or other attorneys because such information is privileged.

Prosecutor Barney Giese could not be reached Friday.

During the 2005 trial, Pittman's lawyers claimed he was under the influence of the antidepressant Zoloft when he shot his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, with a shotgun in November 2001. He then set fire to their home in Chester County to cover up the crime.

Pittman started taking antidepressants after he tried to hurt himself with a knife and run away from home while living in Florida, according to court documents.

He continued taking the antidepressant after moving in with his grandparents in Chester County, where he was later accused of trying to choke a second-grader, court documents state.

On the night of the murders, he had been disciplined by his grandfather for misbehaving at choir practice, according to the documents.

The case sparked outrage that Pittman was held so long before his trial. Last October, dozens of supporters and relatives gathered in Columbia as defense attorney Vickery argued before the state Supreme Court that his client's confession was influenced by Zoloft and his youth.

Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zoloft, has said the drug "didn't cause his problems, nor did the medication drive him to commit murder."

Pittman's conviction was upheld in June by the S.C. Supreme Court. He is serving his sentence at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia.