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The McClatchy Co.

Local News Saturday, May 22, 2004

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Pittman defense wants access to drug documents
Team seeks to add Calif. lawyer

By Jason Cato The Herald
(Published May 22 2004)

Attorneys for the boy charged with the 2001 deaths of his grandparents in Chester County are seeking all documents a drug company may have provided the prosecution team as well as others the company may be hiding.

On Friday, Chester County Public Defender Yale Zamore filed the second of two motions this week seeking any information given to 6th Circuit Solicitor John Justice or prosecution witnesses by Pfizer, the maker of the antidepressant Zoloft, to help in his defense of Christopher Pittman.

Pittman had been taking antidepressants, including Zoloft, for about five weeks before fatally shooting Joe Frank Pittman and Joy Roberts Pittman while they slept in their rural Chester County home in November 2001. He later set the house on fire and fled to Cherokee County in a family car. He was 12 at the time.

Now 15, Pittman is being tried as an adult and could receive up to life in prison if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin June 14.

In one of the motions, Zamore alleges a document provided to one of the prosecution's key medical experts by a Pfizer attorney in January 2002 was only made available to the defense team this month.

In addition to other similar documents provided by Pfizer representatives, defense lawyers also are seeking to use Pfizer documents revealed in other cases but which are still confidential. They allege these documents could help prove that Zoloft sparked a psychotic reaction that led to Pittman's violent behavior.

"If Pfizer has been providing stuff to the solicitor, as I'm led to believe, then we're entitled to it ourselves to aid in our defense," Zamore said. "Plus, there's a possibility Pfizer has things that they've also not given to the prosecutor."

Justice said he's been provided documents from private attorneys who've handled cases for drug companies, but not that much from companies themselves. He called the motions vague and said he's not sure what the defense is after.

Karen Barth Menzies, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, has fought civil product liability cases against antidepressant makers for years. An application was filed this week to add her to the defense team.

"A multibillion dollar company is using its power and influence to make sure this kid gets convicted to protect the reputation of its drug," Menzies said about Pfizer. "They give only the good side and continue to hide the bad side. I know the bad side, and that's why I'm being brought in."

Menzies is the second attorney who specializes in antidepressant cases to request permission to help in Pittman's defense. Andy Vickery, a Houston-based attorney, already has filed an application to join the team. Circuit Court Judge Paul Short Jr., who will preside over the trial, has said he would not approve Vickery's request until meeting with him in person. The same will likely be true for Menzies.

Her firm, Baum Hedlund, has handled cases against antidepressant makers since 1990, including representing the widow of 1960s rock star, Del Shannon, and the family of comedian Phil Hartman and his wife, Brynn.

Justice was unaware of Menzies' application but said it does not intimidate him.

"They can bring on Johnnie Cochran," Justice said. "I don't care."

A hearing on the discovery motions is expected to be held next week at the Chester County Courthouse, although no date has been set. Depending on when the hearing is scheduled, Zamore expects Menzies, Vickery, or maybe both, to be in attendance.

Jason Cato 329-4071

jcato@heraldonline.com

 

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