A team of advocacy lawyers has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal from Christopher Pittman, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murdering his two South Carolina grandparents when he 12 years old.
The request, generated by the Supreme Court Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, focuses on the Eighth Amendment's "cruel and unusual" lengthy nature of the sentence, and not on the anti- depressant Zoloft defense that his legal team unsuccessfully used during his 2005 trial.
"No other inmate in the country is serving so severe a sentence for an offense committed at such a young age," according to a statement released by the group.
Pittman was convicted of the 2001 shotgun murders of grandparents Joe and Joy Pittman, firing on them as they slept in their Upstate home. Afterward, he set the house on fire and fled, eventually being discovered miles away by hunters after his vehicle became stuck in the mud.
Throughout the trial, the youth's defense team said his prescription to the drug Zoloft had clouded his mind, affecting his ability to tell right from wrong, something the jurors and the manufacturer of the drug rejected. Prosecutors said the boy was lashing out after being subjected to strict discipline.
On Monday, lawyers filed a certiorari petition asking that the court address whether its reasoning in the 2005 Roper v. Simmons decision — which prohibited the death penalty for minors — also protects 12-year-olds given lengthy mandatory sentences and without the possibility of parole.
The clinic contends Pittman's sentence was constitutionally excessive because the Simmons case confirms that children are different when it comes to sentencing. Child advocates have long argued children's brains are far from maturity when youths are in their lower teens. Pittman was tried and sentenced as an adult. The 30-year sentence was the shortest available for murder.
Texas law school professor Michael Sturley said the case is a "perfect vehicle for the Supreme Court to recognize evolving standards of decency with regard to young children and to show that the Simmons case is not limited to the death penalty context."
The Supreme Court is expected to decide in March whether to hear the case, the group said.
Pittman's appeal to the S.C. Supreme Court was denied earlier. He turned 18 in April and is now being housed by the S.C. Department of Corrections.
Texas attorney Andy Vickery, who handled Pittman's defense during his South Carolina trial, supports the latest effort, a spokeswoman said.
Pittman's case was heard by a Charleston County jury, which convicted Pittman at age 15 on two counts of murder.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or email@example.com.