Pittman case (taken from Rock Hill Herald editor Terry Plumb's blog)

Following is an excerpt from an email message from a heraldonline reader in Va., in response to our story today about the Christopher Pittman case:

"Few cases better illustrate the truth of the adage that "Hard Cases Make Bad Law" than the Pittman situation....Lawyer Vickery made a dreadful mistake when he 'went for broke' and tried for an acquittal on the grounds that Pittman was too young to form a criminal intent. He should have taken a plea bargain for his client, instead of, as it appears, going for an ideological result and some personal notoriety.

"Since he didn't, the result, 30 yrs for a 12 yr-old (Thanks, Judge) looks dreadful. But if the result is overturned, as also happened recently in the Yates crime/tragedy in Texas, the new result will be dreadful at the other end of the spectrum. Any verdict that does not include some measure of personal guilt and culpability attached to Pittman's acts, would be bad social policy and send a terrible message about personal responsibility,... Not to mention that the general public will, understandably, be led to fear and demonize people not held, even partially, to the same standards of responsibility as all others...

The writer goes on to criticize the drug makers and Pittman's psychiatrist. We may run the full text in The Herald, if the author wishes us to run it as a letter, but the portion I include brings up a key point in this case.

First, I want to say I don't agree with his assessment of Pittman's defense. Vickery and others raised every argument you could think of to keep Christopher Pittman out of prison.

The principal points were that the boy as 12 years old at the time he shot his grandparents to death in their home in rural Chester County.

I have never understood how a 12 year old can be tried as an adult. 15 or 16, You could argue that a kid is mostly grown but at 12!

(Unfortunately for Pittman, by the time the case was tried, he was 15 and had grown quite a bit. The jurors saw a strapping adolescent -- not a skinny school kid).

Mainly, though, while the drugs-made-him-do-it defense went nowhere, there was plenty of reason to think that argument held water.

The FDA slapped warning labels on the antidepressants the boy had been prescribed, warning about potential side effects. The Herald carried dozens of stories about tragic results of kids who had been taking those drugs, including incidents of suicide and violence.

In truth, as a society, we are reluctant to admit that mental illness, including temporary conditions caused by chemical imbalances, are the root of much antisocial behavior. We interpret such cases on moral criteria, dismissing medical or psychological evidence as so much hocus pocus...