Teenager gets new lawyer for civil trial
By Charles D. Perry cperry@heraldonline.com
Published 10/26/07 - 12:00 AM |

CHESTER -- Christopher Pittman, the Chester County teenager serving 30 years in prison for killing his grandparents when he was 12 years old, has been appointed an attorney for his civil lawsuit against the state.

Rock Hill lawyer Earl Gatlin was selected by the court last week to represent Pittman, who recently filed a lawsuit claiming his lawyers were ineffective during his 2005 trial.

Pittman, 18, was tried as an adult and convicted of two counts of murder.

A woman who answered the phone at Gatlin's office Thursday said he had no comment on the case.

In his lawsuit, Pittman alleges his attorneys were "ineffective for misadvising me not to accept the guilty plea for ten (10) yrs., because I would be acquitted at trial," according to court documents filed last month at the Chester County Courthouse.

The court papers do not specify the charge to which Pittman would have pleaded guilty.

In a handwritten motion filed earlier this month, Pittman asks that his case be heard outside of Chester County because of the publicity surrounding the case and potential conflicts of interest among local officials who may have been involved in the case.

The state attorney general's office represents South Carolina in lawsuits against the state. An attorney general's office spokesman could be reached for comment Thursday.

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.

Pittman also claims in the lawsuit that 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, held in Charleston, by Andy Vickery and Paul Waldner of Texas and Henry Mims of Greer.

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.

The case sparked outrage that Pittman was held so long before his trial. Last October, dozens of supporters and relatives gathered in Columbia as defense attorney Vickery argued before the state Supreme Court that his client's confession was influenced by Zoloft and his youth.

Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zoloft, has said the drug "didn't cause his problems, nor did the medication drive him to commit murder."

Pittman's conviction was upheld in June by the state Supreme Court. He's serving his sentence at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia.

Charles D. Perry • 329-4068