South Carolina – it’s not all white sand beaches

What kind of a State allows a kid to be sentenced to 30 years in jail for a crime he committed when he was 12? Personally I can’t imagine how you ascribe adult motive to a 12 year old who is fresh out of a psychiatric hospital because he was threatening to commit suicide. It is also known that he was on Zoloft (after being rapidly switched off Paxil) and that he was all fidgety and complained that his skin burned and crawled. He was a psychiatric mess and on psychoatcive substances and the prosecution successfully argued that the only thing the jury needed to consider was whether or not he knew right from wrong. And they picked ‘wrong’.

Am I the only one who finds this shocking, baffling and depressing? These cases depress and trouble me because I can imagine a child I know or a child in my extended family doing something wrong – possibly even illegal – and then being treated with barbaric harshness and a complete lack of compassion simply because we have become a nation governed by fear.

Here is the real corker, though. This happened in South Carolina, a state that depended on slave labor and that fought fiercely to defend its right to enslave and brutalize people in the name of economics. South Carolina has quite a history of lynchings, crimes by whites against blacks committed to establish white supremacy. Tossing this history to the wind, the prosecutor in this case declared : “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t care how old he is, the state submits that this is as malicious a killing, a murder, as you are ever going to find.”

I think not. I’m sure South Carolina has seen far worse. You don’t have to look around very hard before you find lots of documentation regarding KKK activity and lynchings in the great state of South Carolina.

Getting back to the Pittman case, here are some experts from various accounts of what happened:
Pittman was a troubled child from an unhappy home headed by a single father who was a stern disciplinarian. The boy ran away from home and then threatened suicide. He was sent to a psychiatric center in Florida for six days before his grandparents brought him to their home in rural upstate South Carolina.

A doctor in Chester prescribed a starter dose of Zoloft as a substitute for another antidepressant Pittman had taken in the psychiatric center. Family members say the boy became fidgety, couldn't sit still and talked about his skin being on fire -- signs of compulsive restlessness that some doctors have warned is a possible side effect of the medication.

When the boy got into a fight with a younger child on the school bus, his grandfather talked of sending him back to Florida. That night, the youth lay awake in his room, then got his shotgun, loaded it with birdshot and walked into his grandparents' bedroom while they were asleep.

Got it? The kid was very disturbed – very disturbed. His meds were switched. He was 12 years old but he was tried as an adult.

Are we so fearful that we have need to manipulate the law to qualify a child for the worst possible sentence?

From Court
Although the defense worked hard to prove that the antidepressant Zoloft made Christopher temporarily manic and psychotic, defense attorney Andy Vickery urged jurors in his closing argument to find the boy guilty or not guilty ? and disregard the possible verdicts of guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity.
The surprise move forced lawyers on both sides to focus on whether Christopher knew right from wrong.

What is really frightening is that the jury bought that argument and returned a verdict of guilty.

This is where I’m supposed to say something pithy and sum this up in a memorable way. I’m still working on it but for the moment I’m in a state of dismay and at a loss for words.

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