Attorney general argues teen 'gambled' on
  guilty plea in Chester killings

By Charles D. Perry
Updated 11/02/07 - 12:16 AM |

CHESTER -- The S.C. attorney general's office wants Christopher Pittman's lawsuit against the state dismissed, according to a document provided by an office spokesman Thursday.

Pittman, the Chester County teenager serving 30 years in prison for killing his grandparents when he was 12 years old, filed a civil lawsuit in September alleging that his attorneys were "ineffective for misadvising me not to accept the guilty plea for ten (10) yrs., because I would be acquitted at trial."

Pittman, 18, was tried as an adult and convicted of two counts of murder in 2005. His conviction was upheld in June by the state Supreme Court. A lawyer working on Pittman's behalf said he plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

A document e-mailed to The Herald by attorney general's office spokesman Mark Plowden states that Pittman "made insufficient allegations to show deficient performance."

Pittman "has not alleged anything more than the fact that he was offered ten years but after he gambled on trial he received thirty," the document states. "Counsel's best judgment is not the basis for reversal on collateral attack simply because it ultimately was unsuccessful at trial."

In his lawsuit, Pittman also claims 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 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 in Charleston by Andy Vickery and Paul Waldner of Texas and Henry Mims of Greer.

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 attorney general's office, which represents South Carolina in lawsuits against the state, contends that Pittman used vague reasoning in his request for relief.

For example, the attorney general's response states that Pittman didn't specify which of constitutional rights weren't explained or how understanding those rights would have impacted the trial.

Pittman also has been assigned a new attorney for his lawsuit against the state. Sumter lawyer Charles Brooks III will handle Pittman's case instead of Earl Gatlin, the Rock Hill lawyer who was initially appointed, according to documents filed this week at the Chester County Courthouse.

Gatlin said Brooks has more experience handling these types of cases. Brooks could not be reached for comment.

Another new detail included in the attorney general's office document is that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted Michael Sturley more time to file a petition asking the court to hear the case.

Sturley, a University of Texas law professor, said he is assisting with the U.S. Supreme Court representation, one of his specialties.

Sturley said he has been working with Vickery on the case and plans to file a petition next month asking that the court hear the case.

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 is serving his sentence at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia.

Charles D. Perry; 329-4068