-- A Chester County judge on Tuesday approved the addition of
two expert attorneys for Christopher Pittman's defense team.
However, Circuit Judge Paul Short again refused to postpone
the boy's double murder trial for a week, meaning one of those
attorneys -- Andy Vickery of Houston -- most likely will not
be available to help when the trial begins June 14. Karen
Barth Menzies, a Los Angeles-based attorney who specializes in
antidepressant cases, also was added to the defense team on
Short's refusal didn't stop Vickery from beginning to lay
the groundwork for using drug company internal memos and
documents to help prove that an adverse reaction to an
antidepressant caused Pittman, now 15, to kill his
grandparents in November 2001. The defense says the drug was
Zoloft, made by Pfizer.
Vickery claimed Pfizer "injected" itself into the Pittman
case in January 2002 when one of its lawyers provided
information to one of the prosecution's key medical experts.
By doing so, Vickery said the defense is not only entitled to
all materials provided to the prosecution, but to many other
Vickery and Menzies say confidential Pfizer documents
they've seen in civil cases prove the drug company has been
aware of potential problems with Zoloft for years. Those
documents, however, have been sealed by a civil court
Besides a list of those memos and documents, Vickery also
wanted to know whether 6th Circuit Solicitor John Justice was
provided a copy of the "Zoloft Prosecutor's Manual," which he
said is created by Pfizer to help prosecutors in cases
involving the drug.
Justice said he has no such manual, but said Pfizer
representatives contacted him last fall and have given him
copies of public documents, papers from the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, a tape of the February FDA hearing on
antidepressants and children, Zoloft package inserts and
testimony transcripts of one of the defense's key medical
experts, Dr. Peter Breggin.
"I've been given advice on how to cross Breggin ... and
have been schooled on how these drugs are supposed to work,"
He also said he had "some sort of manual for Paxil," an
antidepressant in the same class as Zoloft that is made by
GlaxoSmithKline. Pittman took Paxil briefly before being
switched to Zoloft.
As for the confidential Pfizer documents being sought by
the defense, Justice said he did not have them. "I don't have
it. I don't want it. It's not material to my case," he
Even if Justice does not have copies of the secret
documents, Vickery argued that the solicitor is required under
court rules to request the documents from the drug
Claiming the prosecutor had been "spoon-fed" only the
information Pfizer wanted him to know, Vickery asked: "If he
was only told half the story by Pfizer, why wouldn't he want
to know the other half?"
Short said he would rule within the next few days on
whether the court would require Justice to request the
documents sought by the defense.
Jim Parham, a Greenville attorney representing Pfizer, told
the judge that the defense team was trying to make an "end
run" around a civil court's confidentiality order.
"All of this material is not relative to this case," Parham
said, adding no scientific authority has connected Zoloft to
patient violence or suicide.
In response to Parham's assertion that no link exists
between Zoloft and potential harmful side effects, Vickery
said after the hearing that a "host of evidence" exists.
"What could be more persuasive in linking this drug to
violence or suicide than internal memos from the company
itself?" Vickery asked. "It's time these documents see the
light of day."
Previously unpublished studies from antidepressant makers,
including Pfizer, prompted the FDA in March to request caution
labels on such drugs warning doctors and patients to watch for
increased signs of suicide, especially when beginning
treatment. In December, the British drug review agency all but
banned prescribing antidepressants to children after reviewing
the same studies and determining most of the drugs were either
ineffective in treating depression in juveniles or were too
dangerous. Both the U.S. and British actions included
Pfizer representatives will argue to withhold their
confidential documents from the Pittman case on June 10, when
pretrial motions are heard.
If these documents say what the defense claims and are
allowed, they could prove crucial in Pittman's trial. The boy
had been taking Paxil and Zoloft for about five weeks before
fatally shooting Joe Frank Pittman and Joy Roberts Pittman
while they slept in their rural Chester County home on Nov.
28, 2001. He later set the house on fire and fled to Cherokee
County in a family car. He was 12 at the time.
Now 15, Pittman is being tried as an adult and could
receive up to life in prison if convicted.
Joe D. Pittman, the boy's father, was adamant after the
hearing that the Pfizer documents be made available to aid in
his son's defense.
"Every time these lawyers get up and argue for these
documents not to come out, they're killing another person,"
Joe D. Pittman said. "... Right's right and wrong is wrong.
The fact they have these and won't release them is wrong. How
can they hold that from us? They don't have that right."
Jason Cato • 329-4071