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The McClatchy Co.

Local News Monday, October 27, 2003

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Trial may begin soon in double slayings
Chester boy's case was on hold for two years

By Jason Cato The Herald
(Published September 25 2003)

CHESTER -- After nearly two years in legal limbo, the case of a Chester boy charged with the double murder of his grandparents could soon go to trial.

John Justice, 6th Circuit solicitor, plans to take the case before a grand jury in October. If the boy is indicted, his trial could begin by the end of the year, Justice said, possibly in November.

Grandparents shot in head

The boy, who was 12 at the time, is charged with shooting Joe Frank Pittman, 66, and Joy Roberts Pittman, 62, in the head while they slept in their Slick Rock Road home late Nov. 28, 2001. Police say the boy, who is not being named because of his age, then set the house on fire and fled to Cherokee County in his grandfather's Nissan Pathfinder.

Since the June family court hearing where a judge waived the boy up to adult court, both sides had been awaiting a final report from the defense's psychiatrist. Justice said he received a copy of the report last week.

"For the first time, there's no legal reason not to move forward," Justice said.

In criminal court, the boy faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in adult prison. While the law is sometimes interpreted as 30 years or life, Justice said judges have consistently handed down sentences of between 30 years and life.

The last criminal court sessions in Chester County this year are scheduled for the weeks of Nov. 10 and Nov. 17. Justice said if the trial cannot begin then, he may request a special session or hold the trial early next year.

Yale Zamore, the Chester County public defender who is representing the boy, said Wednesday that the grand jury first must decide whether there is enough evidence in the case to move forward to trial.

"This is a very difficult case, and it's being handled very carefully on both sides," Zamore said. "All cases should be handled carefully. But with something as emotionally charged, as sensitive and as serious as this, you want to be extra careful."

The boy's father, Joe D. Pittman, said he's not been kept up to date on the time table of his son's case. Pittman said he was not aware of the impending grand jury proceedings or that the trial could begin later this year.

"Nobody tells me anything," Pittman said Wednesday from his home in Florida.

He's now in the process of hiring a private Columbia attorney to help with his son's defense.

"I don't want to tick anybody off, but I want the best for my son," Pittman said.

In large part, Pittman said he is pursuing additional legal help to make sure his son gets the best defense he can using the medication angle. Pittman and others believe the boy was driven to the violent act because of an adverse reaction to prescription antidepressants. Diagnosed as clinically depressed, the boy had been on a regime of Paxil and Zoloft in the days and weeks prior to the killings.

Since that time, the British government has banned Paxil from use in children due to increased tendencies of suicide and violence. In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched studies into the same issues here, and even issued a warning to doctors reminding them these antidepressants are not approved for use in children.

Contact Jason Cato at 329-4071 or


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