Prescription For Murder?

Did Zoloft Make 12-Year-Old Chris Pittman Murder His Grandparents?

But why would this shy, sweet-looking boy kill the people he loved most in the world? Chris' father insists his son is innocent: "He didn't do it. That's what I'm telling you. He did not do it."

Delnora Duprey, known as Del, is Chris' maternal grandmother. She says she can't believe that her grandson has been charged with two counts of murder: "He's a very thoughtful child. … And that's why all of this is just totally out of character for Chris. Totally out of character."

Del helped raise Chris after her daughter, Chris' mother, abandoned the family. She says her grandson was sad, but never angry or violent, which is why Chris' family went looking for another explanation. And they say they found one.

"He did not do it. Zoloft did," says Chris' father, Joe. He believes that his parents would be alive today if Chris had never taken Zoloft.

Zoloft, a drug that has been on the market since the early '90s, is the most prescribed anti-depressant in America today. Pittman's family says that this medication, for which more than 30 million prescriptions a year are written, turned a 12-year-old boy into a monster.

His family says it started about a month before the shootings, after Chris threatened suicide in Florida. He was diagnosed with depression and put on the drug Paxil. When he moved to South Carolina, a doctor switched him to Zoloft. His family now believes that side effects from Zoloft caused Chris to kill.

"I have no doubts whatsoever that it was the medication," says Del. The family says Chris appeared to be displaying side effects from the medication just days before the shootings. His older sister, Danielle, says he seemed manic at Thanksgiving: "He just acted like a crazy man."

Chris' aunt, Mindy Rector, says that Chris complained about the pills he was taking: "He says, 'Aunt Mindy, I don't like taking them. I feel like my skin is crawling and that I'm just on fire.'"

Still, side effects are one thing. Could a commonly prescribed drug lead to violence? Pfizer, the drug's manufacturer, says no. But Chris' defense, led by Texas lawyer Andy Vickery, says yes.

"I think something switched the safety switch off. The inhibition that keeps us from doing violent things, that something flipped," says Vickery. "He is not an evil child. He's not a bad boy. He's a good kid, and he never hurt man nor beast until that drug."

Vickery makes his living battling drug companies in civil cases, where a lot of money is at stake. In this case, the toughest of his career, a child's life is at stake, and Vickery is doing it for free.

"The theory of our case is that a powerful mind-altering drug was given to a kid that shouldn't have got it in the first place. And it triggered very violent behavior," says Vickery.

"The drug made me do it" defense might seem far-fetched, had it not been for hearings held last year by the Food and Drug Administration. Young patients and their parents came forward to talk about disturbing side effects from Zoloft and similar drugs:

The FDA has ordered what is known as a "black-box warning," cautioning that Zoloft and similar drugs can increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents. Still, Vickery knew he had an uphill battle proving the drug can also lead to murder.

But could a drug cause a boy to take a shotgun and kill his grandparents? "These drugs trigger violent behavior, frequently towards oneself, but also towards others," says Vickery, who along with his team of lawyers, argued a rarely used type of insanity plea, known as involuntary intoxication.

"When someone takes a medication under a doctor's advice, they don't expect to become intoxicated to the point that they are out of their minds," says Vickery.

But a judge has ruled that Chris will be tried as an adult. If he is convicted of the two murders, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.