Pittman appeal could be heard in Oct.

By Andrew Dys The Herald - Updated 08/30/06 - 12:30 AM

CHESTER -- The S.C. Supreme Court could hear Christopher Pittman's appeal case as early as October, according to court officials and lawyers in the case.

Pittman, now 17, is serving 30 years in prison after he was convicted in adult court for the 2001 double shotgun killings of his grandparents, Joy and Joe Frank Pittman, in Chester County when he was 12 years old.

Andy Vickery, Pittman's lead lawyer who has argued that Pittman was too young to form criminal intent, said he expects hearings Oct. 3, 4 or 5, but has not received official word.

The case could be heard the first week or third week in October but is subject to change, said Mark Plowden, spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General's Office.

Vickery argued at trial that antidepressants caused Pittman to kill his grandparents.

Prosecutors say Pittman, angry at being disciplined by his grandparents, plotted and committed the killings and then covered up the crime by burning down his grandparents' home in rural Chester County. A jury agreed and convicted Pittman.

The state Supreme Court opted last year to hear the appeal rather than having the case first heard by the lower S.C. Court of Appeals.

Pittman's lawyers want his release, a new trial or new sentencing. Several court errors led to unconstitutional punishment, Vickery said.

Vickery said he is "thrilled with the opportunity" to answer any questions the five Supreme Court justices may have.

"My focus is on what can I do to help bring justice in this case," Vickery said.

Plowden declined further comment, but prosecutors have said that Pittman shouldn't be released or get a new trial.

The decision to try Pittman as an adult and the February 2005 trial broadcast live on Court TV sparked a national debate over the way juveniles are treated in South Carolina courts. As do many states, South Carolina allows prosecutors to seek adult trials against children for severe crimes such as murder. Pittman's 30-year sentence in adult court was the most lenient he could have received for two murder convictions. He would have faced a maximum punishment of jail until age 21 if convicted as a juvenile.

The state Supreme Court hearings are expected to attract representatives from child advocacy groups who say Pittman should never have been tried as an adult.

Pittman, who recently received his GED, has been in the custody of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice since his arrest.

Andrew Dys 329-4065 | adys@heraldonline.com