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Justices Decline ‘Zoloft Defense’ Case


From the New York Times article linked at Pharmalot:

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal from a South Carolina teenager who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing his grandparents with a shotgun when he was 12 years old....

The “Zoloft defense” was hotly debated at the time of his trial in February 2005. Shortly before the killings of Nov. 28, 2001, the 12-year-old Christopher had begun taking Zoloft that was prescribed. His parents had taken him to Chester County, S.C., to live with his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, because he was having trouble at home in Florida...

Christopher waited for his grandparents to go to bed, then loaded a shotgun, entered their bedroom and shot them to death in their bed. He then lit several candles and positioned them in an apparent attempt to burn the house down, court records recounted. Then he took some money, weapons and his dog and drove off in his grandparents’ car.

The next morning, two hunters found Christopher wandering in the woods. He told them that he had been kidnapped by a black man who had slain his parents and set their house ablaze, but that he had been able to escape. The hunters, who were members of the Corinth Fire Department, took him to a fire station and alerted the police.

As the police were searching futilely for a black suspect, examinations of the crime scene and the vehicle that Christopher had taken turned suspicion toward him. After being told his Miranda rights, he confessed and was convicted of murder and arson on Feb. 15, 2005.

Afterward, a juror said the jury had agreed that Zoloft might have affected Christopher’s behavior, but not enough to impel him to kill.

SCOTUSblog also has brief coverage.


The questions presented, as drafted by counsel for defendant, were:

1. Is a sentence of 30 years without possibility of parole constitutionally disproportionate as applied to a 12-year-old child?
2. Are the mitigating qualities of youth relevant to whether a 12-year-old's non-capital sentence is constitutionally disproportionate?
3. Does the Eighth Amendment prohibit the imposition of a sentence of 30 years without possibility of parole on a 12-year-old child where the sentencer was absolutely precluded from considering youth as a mitigating factor justifying lesser punishment?

As I recall from news reports, the boy was offered a deal where he wouldn't serve nearly so much time.

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