Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeals
case of a South Carolina adolescent that was sentenced to 30 years in prison
without the possibility of parole, at the age of 12, for the brutal murder of
his grandparents. Christopher Pittman’s attorneys argue that the sentence
violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unjust punishment, as Pittman is
the only person serving such an unforgiving sentence for a crime committed at
such a young age.
At the time of the murders the pre-teen Pittman was taking
the powerful antidepressant Zoloft, which some believe may have contributed to
his actions. The sentence was upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court,
characterizing the sentence as warranted by the “brutal” nature of the crime.
South Carolina Attorney General, Henry McMaster, urged the Supreme Court to not
hear the case.
In his brief, McMaster pointed to what he said was a trend
“towards increased punishment for violent juvenile offenders.” He cited a
number of cases of lengthy prison terms issued around the country to offenders
who committed their crimes under the age of 15.
“There is simply no identifiable national consensus against
imposition of the minimum adult sentence on a 12-year-old for a double
murder,” McMaster argued.
This may be true, but just because there is no “national
consensus” that safeguards against these types of sentences, it doesn’t make
them just. The 12-year-old boy that committed this crime suffered from depression
and had spent time in a psychiatric facility in Florida prior to the offense.
Pittman’s father removed him from the facility and sent him to live with his
grandparents in South Carolina.
While in South Carolina, Pittman ran out of Paxil, and a
doctor gave him samples of Zoloft. He soon began experiencing restlessness and
became disruptive at school and church events, according to his lawyers.
On the night he killed his grandparents, Pittman had been
reprimanded for his conduct at choir practice, and his grandfather had later
paddled him. After the shooting, Pittman set fire to the house and fled in his
grandparents’ sport-utility vehicle.
In nearly every school shooting or seemingly random act of
violence committed by a teens, some sort of antidepressant has been involved.
From Columbine to Virginia Tech the actions of these mentally unstable young
adults may have in some way been influenced by the antidepressant medications
they were taking. I do believe that Christopher Pittman committed one of the
most brutal and heinous crimes imaginable, but I also believe that sentencing a
12-year-old to spend the remainder of his childhood and the majority of his
adult life behind bars even touches the root of the problem at large.