updated 2/1/2005 9:44:13 AM ET 2005-02-01T14:44:13

A teenager who shot and killed his grandparents as they slept is “a shy, decent boy” who was led to kill by the antidepressant Zoloft, his attorney said as the boy went on trial.

Christopher Pittman, now 15, is being tried as an adult for two counts of murder in the November 2001 slayings of Joe and Joy Pittman with a pump-action shotgun. Their house was set ablaze and the youth, then 12, drove off in the family car.

Defense attorney Andy Vickery said Monday that Zoloft was to blame.

“This is a case about one drug that has taken three lives. When you hear the case, you will have the power and opportunity to give one back,” he said. “A shy, decent boy was acting under the influence of a mind-altering drug.”

Prosecutors contend Pittman shot his grandparents because they disciplined him for fighting on a school bus.

“This is not a case about Zoloft. This is not a case about Pfizer,” prosecutor Barney Giese told the jury in opening statements. “This is a case about Chris Pittman.”

Pittman, who had threatened suicide, was put on Zoloft three weeks before the slayings, and his dose was doubled just two days earlier.

In October, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Zoloft and other antidepressants to carry “black box” warnings — the government’s strongest warning short of a ban — about increasing the risk of suicidal behavior in children.

Pfizer has vigorously fought cases claiming antidepressants cause violent or suicidal behavior.

Pittman could be sentenced to 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

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