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Zoloft Defense Teen Appeals Sentence

Christopher Pittman's (search) attorneys, who say the antidepressant Zoloft (search) caused the youth to shoot his grandparents in their sleep when he was 12, want Pittman to get either a new trial or his 30-year prison sentence reduced.

Circuit Court Judge Danny Pieper was to consider those motions Tuesday — two weeks after a jury convicted Pittman on two counts of murder for killing Joe Pittman, 66, and Joy Pittman, 62, in their Chester County home in November 2001.

The defense maintained that Pittman, now 15, was involuntarily intoxicated and couldn't tell right from wrong because he was being treated with Zoloft.

The prosecution said the youth was simply angry because his grandparents disciplined him for choking a younger student on a school bus. After the shootings, Pittman burned the house and drove off in his grandparent's car.

The defense has asked Pieper to reduce Pittman's sentence to time served and probation until he is 21. If Pittman, who was tried as an adult, had been convicted in Family Court, he could have only been held in custody until he was 21.

Defense attorney Andy Vickery argued in the sentencing motion that trying Pittman as an adult violated the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

"How then can a civilized society assess the same culpability for, and impose the same punishment on, a 12-year-old as you would impose on a grown man?" he wrote.

Another motion claims juror misconduct and asks Pieper to order a new trial. The defense said a juror discussed the case outside the jury room after they recessed their deliberations the night before the verdict was returned.

The motion for a new trial said Pieper summoned the juror who discussed the case to his chambers several days after the verdict. While the juror "downplayed the event," the defense said if the judge had discovered the discussion before the verdict, that juror would have been dismissed.

The first alternate juror who would have replaced him felt strongly Pittman was not guilty and "her involvement as a deliberating juror may have resulted in an acquittal," the motion argued.

On Monday evening, a group of 10 Pittman supporters gathered outside the courthouse holding candles and wearing white ribbons.

"We know God is still in control," Delnora Duprey, Pittman's maternal grandmother said. "I feel very optimistic."

Will Duprey, her husband, said he isn't giving up on seeing Pittman freed.

"I have visions of seeing Christopher driving," he said. "I have visions of seeing Christopher getting married."

A Web site is asking supporters to sign an Internet petition to be sent to Gov. Mark Sanford (search) seeking a full pardon and immediate release for Pittman.

Sanford's office has said while the governor can commute a death sentence, he has no authority to issue a pardon. The state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services issues pardons in South Carolina.