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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
"American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul; Why Did a 12- Year-Old Kill His Grandparents?
Aired February 8, 2005 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: Tonight, "American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest and Paula Abdul, the real stars of the TV phenomena. Taking your phone calls.
And then did a popular prescription drug make a 12-year-old kill his own grandparents? We'll go inside the sensational, disturbing Zoloft murder trial in South Carolina, with Court TV's Nancy Grace, the former prosecutor, who's about to launch her own show on CNN's Headline News.
Psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig, high profile defense attorney Michael Cardoza, and others, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
"American Idol" is now in its fourth year on FOX. They said it wouldn't last.
We welcome its host, Ryan Seacrest, who also hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, "American Top 40," as well as "On the Air with Ryan Seacrest" on KISS-FM in Los Angeles. E! Online named him one of the 20 young guns under 30 who hold the future of Hollywood in their hands.
And Paula Abdul, judge on "American Idol," recording artist has sold more than 30 albums, and winner of a Grammy, Emmy and MTV award.
Did you think this would go four years?
RYAN SEACREST, "AMERICAN IDOL": You won all of those? That's great, sorry. That's the first time I've heard all of those.
PAULA ABDUL, "AMERICAN IDOL": Over 40 million.
KING: Forty million.
SEACREST: Put that down on the card.
KING: We got it wrong.
ABDUL: I have two Emmys.
KING: And two Emmys -- changing as we talk. Wait a minute. You just won another.
SEACREST: We had no idea it would be this big. And I think that we had no idea it would still be this big, wouldn't you say, especially the fourth time around?
KING: What were your expectations?
ABDUL: Well, I must say, this fourth season, in the auditions, I was phoning home saying, "This feels magical." And I was also telling everyone back home that it feels like this is the first season.
ABDUL: There is something magical. And I think maybe because Fantasia Barrino won, that she woke up uber-talented people, who felt that, if people embraced her unique talent, maybe I should audition, too.
KING: This is basically a talent contest. Now, radio has had this for years. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scout.
KING: We've always had this.
SEACREST: Look for talent, make a record, we'll play it.
KING: If you win, you're on.
KING: So why now? Why this?
SEACREST: I think it's a sum of all parts. I believe that this show -- it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it has a very compelling component. And that is the people, America as a country, as a nation, can invest in each of these contestants and they decide.
I also think that this panel of judges, I mean, when you watch the panel of judges, and you see a contestant perform in front of them, you're always on the edge of your seat wondering what they're going to say and wondering how that contestant is going to handle the criticism. So I do think that the contestants are not only judged on their song but also how they handle the adversity of competition.
KING: And the diverseness of the fact that you could like someone the audience doesn't like, right?
KING: And they'll resonate in votes. The people you like doesn't always win.
SEACREST: People take pride in who they, I think, invest in early on in the season.
KING: Let's see some of the changes this year. We raised the age limit to 28. Why?
SEACREST: Twenty-eight years old changes the competition a little bit. I believe, from a perspective of a contestant, it makes it more difficult. I think it makes it more challenging. I think that these contestants who are older have been through more life experience.
ABDUL: Absolutely. If they're singing about heartbreak, one of the things...
SEACREST: They've lived it.
ABDUL: They've lived it. I mean, it is -- they feel that, at 28, if I don't make it in my career now, really, that is a certain age that, you know...
SEACREST: It's do or die at that point, right?
ABDUL: And if they're singing about heartbreak, they've actually had heartbreak.
KING: What was it before, 25?
KING: Now another change. You've divided the guys and girls. Guys and girls are separated for the semi-finals. Men and women sing separately with six female and six male finalists. Why?
SEACREST: Paula wanted it that way. She's very demanding this time around.
KING: One call from Paula...
SEACREST: And she says, "Or I'm walking out."
ABDUL: The producers decided.
KING: The suits?
SEACREST: The suits decided to do this.
ABDUL: I think that this is a very good change that the producers made. All these changes have been made to make the television viewer have a better time getting to know each of these contestants. It's going to be harder for the television viewer to say goodbye to these contestants. It's not going to be easy.
KING: This is like a reality show, in that sense?
SEACREST: It is the ultimate reality of making it in pop music and making it very quickly. These contestants who compete -- it's a bit of culture shock. Because many of them have never been to Hollywood before. Then they're thrown into this machine. And there are no breaks. Every single day they are working. And every single day they have to compete.
KING: And 24 now semi-finalists instead of 32. Why?
SEACREST: Twenty-four instead of thirty-two?
ABDUL: Felt that that was a fair number to be able to get -- 24 would be good for the audience, the television viewing audience, to really get to know who these 12 and 12 are.
SEACREST: Exactly, to get to know their story.
KING: Do you think, Ryan, they're voting talent or personality, because I like that guy?
SEACREST: I think both. I think it's a combination of it all. I think it is a combination of the personality. I think it's how they come across to the audience. I think, if they sell themselves as a genuine person, I think that goes into it. And I think obviously a lot of it is heavily weighted in the talent. But I think it's big equation.
ABDUL: And it's a great equal mix this time. It's unique talent this time.
SEACREST: And you know what? What I've noticed with these contestants who are older, they're not as careful in front of the cameras. In years past, the younger contestants have really been aware of the camera and being careful...
ABDUL: Well, they've been very pageant-oriented.
SEACREST: They've been pageant-oriented, and almost like politicians to a degree. Whereas these older contestants tell us how it is. And they will say to you, look, I don't care about you. I just want to win the competition.
KING: Do you feel pressure?
ABDUL: Do I feel pressure? No.
KING: When you're judging these people, you got to be honest?
ABDUL: I feel that it is my job to make sure that these kids who are talented get every chance that they can and not to be passed over, that this is life or death for them.
KING: What do you make of William Hung who butchered a Ricky Martin song and got a recording contract? Now, this is where that I go wrong.
SEACREST: "She Bangs" is the title of the song. And there's a dance that goes along with it, Larry, a little of this.
KING: Right. And why did he get a recording contract? SEACREST: He was memorable.
ABDUL: That's America. That's America that fell in love with the innocence of a kid who just was honest, saying, "I did the best I could, and I had no formal training."
SEACREST: I think people followed that story. He came across as so naive, and America wanted to follow him to see when he was going to pull off the mask, and say, OK, hey, the joke's on you. But there really was no end to that.
KING: By the way, I won "Faraway Idol" in "Shrek 3's" Idol contest. Simon judged me, but I won. The voters voted.
SEACREST: And what was it that he saw in you?
SEACREST: What did the judges see in you? The good singing voice, stage presence?
KING: I sang "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."
KING: I was good.
ABDUL: Did that just give you the itch to...
KING: It was my new chance. Oh, I'm going to be big in "Shrek 3." I think I get an opera.
Simon, he's sort of like Cosell, voted hated and loved at the same time. How big a part is he?
SEACREST: Huge. He's a major part of the show. He was a big part of it before it came over to the United States of America. I think that's the problem with our relationship with Simon, is that he's extremely aware of how important he is to the success of the program.
KING: Is he pompous and egotistical off the air?
SEACREST: Is he pompous? I think it's a mild term to use. Yes. He's arrogant, he's pompous, he believes that everything he says is right. He drives you crazy.
ABDUL: He drives me crazy.
SEACREST: He actually tries to get under your skin, but he, you know, he does know what he's doing. He does know what he's doing.
KING: He knows the business.
SEACREST: I think he knows the business well, yes. You?
KING: You don't think so?
SEACREST: No, no. I have to actually set the stage. This has been a very interesting year and season. The two of you have gone at it more than I've ever seen you go at on the show. And it's real.
KING: That could be, maybe, an attraction?
ABDUL: Oh, no.
SEACREST: A physical attraction?
KING: Sometimes, come on, sometimes...
SEACREST: I remember that one night when I went to bed and you guys stayed up in the lobby of the hotel room when we were on the road.
ABDUL: Arguing. We were still arguing.
KING: Let me get break and we'll come right back...
SEACREST: It was still romantic, for arguing.
KING: Here they go. Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest, fourth season of "American Idol." Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're stuck in the middle, and the pain is thunder, I sent my baby girl to the doctor for nothing but a fever for nothing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the podiatrist in the street said she had a break down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never felt before your touch, I never needed anyone to make me feel alive
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did anyone ever say to you that you sounded like a woman?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I get that a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your golden sun will shine for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel the sky tumbling down. I feel my heart start trembling. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL": Honestly? One of the worst I've ever heard in my life. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The worst?
COWELL: Yes, honestly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you just saying that to get on my nerves, or are you totally serious? Because something tells me that I think you're saying it to annoy me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A little bit of a "Gong Show" here, too?
SEACREST: A bit. That one was a little scary.
KING: Did he call you, Simon, today on the radio...
SEACREST: He did, yes.
KING: ... saying that, what, you called him fat?
SEACREST: I didn't call him fat. I said I read a report recently that he thinks he looks a little chunky on this season's show. And he agreed and said that he was going to stop eating cake.
ABDUL: Oh, really?
SEACREST: Yes, I did have a conversation with him a couple of times recently on the radio about that, the fact that he has this really wet pit sweat on the show that just drives me crazy when he puts his hands up like this and talks to the contestants.
ABDUL: Oh, it's yucky.
KING: But he also revealed that you broke up with your girlfriend?
SEACREST: He revealed that?
KING: Simon did.
SEACREST: He did reveal that. He revealed that a couple of weeks ago.
KING: Did that bother you?
SEACREST: Well, I told him in confidence. We were talking about our relationships. And he's been in a very serious one for a long time. And I think they'll probably get engaged. But he...
KING: What's with you Paula. How are you doing in that department?
ABDUL: I'm part of that, too, I suppose, the threesome.
KING: Wait a minute.
SEACREST: I don't want to shift gears, but I got out of that one, so, Paula...
KING: So you are single again, like you're floating?
SEACREST: I'm single. I think floating is an appropriate term.
KING: Saturday night -- are you married or anything?
ABDUL: No, I'm single.
KING: You dating anyone special?
SEACREST: Valentine's Day is just around the corner.
ABDUL: That's right. I'm happily single.
SEACREST: Oh, happily. That's rejection.
KING: Who's married on the show?
SEACREST: Randy Jackson is married. Simon is soon to be married. I promise you I'm going to call in the day that he tells me so you can break the news.
KING: "Saturday Night Live" had fun with "American Idol" this past Saturday. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not serious, are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, come on, you're goofing on us, dawg.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not goofing on no one, Randy. I'm going to be a star.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honey, you really think you can sing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know I can sing. Anybody knows I say so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, get yourself a new everybody you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABDUL: That was funny.
KING: Do you appreciate that when they do it?
SEACREST: I love it. I think it's great. It's fun to watch.
KING: It's high compliment that they take you on, right?
ABDUL: Oh, yes.
KING: Now how long is this show entrenched for, "American Idol"?
SEACREST: I don't think we actually know the real answer to that.
KING: Is it renewed year-to-year?
SEACREST: I usually answer that question by saying everything in my mind in television is renewed year-to-year. There are no safe bets. You know, just when you think it's going to be picked up forever, and you can count on it for the rest of your life, it goes away.
KING: How did you get this job?
Abdul: Well, you know, I thought for sure that I got it from the U.K., because I was called from...
KING: It started in the U.K.
ABDUL: It started in the U.K. And I was called from my attorneys, saying that there was a producer from the U.K. saying that they wanted to talk to you regarding -- I needed to give over licensing and mechanical -- just to give up -- saying, yes, I would give away the ability to let these kids sing, lip sync, and also then to sing, actually, songs that I recorded. And especially one that I wrote for Kylie Minogue.
And a lot of kids in the U.K. were singing this Kylie Minogue song. And one of the producers called me up, named Claire (ph), and she said, "Listen, when we get to that final ten, we would like for you to come over and work with the top ten." And she said this show's huge. The queen clears her calendar. And I said, I'm really interested. She goes, oh, and it's really great, because the whole U.K., they vote. And it's wonderful.
And we have these really mean nasty guys that sandwich each other. And they just insult these kids. And I went, "This is horrible." And I didn't know much about it. She goes, "Probably there will be a bidding war in America." And, almost seven months later, I got a call to come in and meet FOX and Free Mantle (ph) and the rest is history.
KING: And the rest is history. Clay Aiken didn't win, but he's been the most popular winner so far, right, the non-winner?
SEACREST: The most popular, yes, runner-up. Why? Love affair with this guy. He came across -- I think you asked the question earlier about how people assess, judge the contestants. He was a guy that people liked in terms of personality. He was a guy that carried himself well. He had likeability and a fantastic voice.
KING: So he had all of it.
SEACREST: He had all of it. And there was a niche, there was a void in the marketplace.
ABDUL: For that kind of marketplace, for that kind of singing.
KING: And how is Fantasia doing? She won last year, right? ABDUL: Fantasia is actively promoting her new record.
KING: She has a new CD.
ABDUL: And, you know, she is so loved by so many. She has so many fans out there, so everyone wants to get her out there and see her out there.
KING: Let's take some calls for Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest.
Clark Summit, Pennsylvania, hello?
CALLER: Hi. First of all, I'd like to tell Paula that it was dream come true meeting you in Washington, D.C., this past summer. And I was wondering if you were going to be touring with your new CD?
ABDUL: You know what...
SEACREST: What's the story with the new CD? What new CD?
ABDUL: This came about when Randy mentioned that we were going to collaborate together...
SEACREST: Back at the studio.
ABDUL: Which we are. We're collaborating on several projects together, and, provided, you know, that there's time in between the next "American Idol." When that's all said and done, if I decide to tour, I definitely would come to Washington, D.C. We'll see.
KING: Is "American Idol" now take preference in your life?
ABDUL: It's like taken over my whole life.
ABDUL: In an odd sense, it has pretty much taken me sort of out of my recording and out of my choreography. However, I have managed to slip in some choreography jobs. And I've been writing songs for other artists now.
KING: If you could go back, be a youngster, would you enter this?
ABDUL: Consensus amongst every recording artist I know, heck no. Who wants to audition in front of Simon Cowell?
KING: No one wants to be embarrassed.
ABDUL: I don't think Simon -- Simon would not want to audition in front of Simon.
KING: How much of Simon is a shtick?
KING: None is a shtick?
SEACREST: Well, it's an interesting question.
SEACREST: None of it's a shtick?
ABDUL: You just said on your radio station...
SEACREST: This morning?
ABDUL: ... how rude he is in public.
SEACREST: Yes. He's rude in public. But let's be totally honest with Mr. King.
ABDUL: He can be charming.
SEACREST: Yes. He can also be charming. But he does say things to make a sound bite. He does say things to get a ride.
ABDUL: He's a walking sound bite.
KING: That means shtick. If you can say, if you hear, like, there are certain disc jockeys, or wild guys in America, if you hear them doing wild things, you know that, driving to work, they said, "What am I going to do today to rise them up?" That's shtick.
SEACREST: I think he knows how to articulate something that people are entertained by and still be true to the message he's trying to send the contestant.
ABDUL: That is absolutely true.
KING: All right. So he's aware of himself?
SEACREST: He's aware. Very aware of himself.
KING: We'll be right back with more on this fourth season of "American Idol." More phone calls, don't go away.
KING: The other night, last week, Groundhog Day, and Jay Leno had a little fun at Ryan's expense. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, NBC "TONIGHT SHOW": Hey, Kev.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up, Jay?
LENO: What's the difference between Punxsutawney Phil and Ryan Seacrest? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, what's that?
LENO: Phil came out this morning. See, that's the difference.
Oh, we tease the Ryan Seacrest. We love Ryan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: How do you react to stuff like that?
SEACREST: I think that's funny.
KING: Where did that start?
SEACREST: Where did it start? Perhaps it started because I put a chemical in my hair at one point in time. And, you know, people seem to think that if you highlight your hair in some way it means, perhaps, that you are gay, or if you like to put on a nice shirt and go shopping for new shoes, perhaps the stereotype is that you lean more...
ABDUL: Or Botox.
SEACREST: I don't Botox. I've never Botoxed.
ABDUL: Tanning bed.
SEACREST: I've gone to a tanning bed.
KING: What is that other term, metrosomething?
KING: Are you metrosexual?
SEACREST: Oh, for sure. Proud of it. I think you are, too. I'm looking at the tie and the shirt. Again, Larry, this is a couple of times I've been here, and you've got the metro look kicking high.
KING: I'm a Jewish guy.
SEACREST: Well, you can still be a metrosexual.
KING: I'm a Jewish metrosexual.
SEACREST: You are a Jewish metrosexual, yes.
KING: Is it true you dated Teri Hatcher this weekend?
SEACREST: That is not true.
KING: My spies tell me you did.
SEACREST: I did not date Teri Hatcher this weekend.
KING: Where did that come from? SEACREST: I don't know where that came from.
ABDUL: That's good.
SEACREST: I have these polar rumors.
KING: You're supposed to say maybe.
SEACREST: Oh, OK, sorry. Ask me again. Ask me again.
KING: Here's where you...
KING: Did you date Teri Hatcher this weekend?
SEACREST: Terri is a very talented and beautiful young lady on a fantastic television show, and I'm very proud of her, and don't want to say anything.
ABDUL: "That's all I'm going to say."
SEACREST: Well, I screwed that up.
KING: OK. Charlotte, North Carolina, hello.
CALLER: Yes, yes. Hi, Larry. This is Alfea (ph). It's great to see Ryan and Paula. I'm big fans of the show. I love it.
KING: What's the question?
CALLER: Yes, sir. I'm 32. And I wanted to know if they were going to, maybe in the future, raise the age anymore?
SEACREST: A very common question. It's a very common question. If it were up to you, what would you do? It's not my decision.
ABDUL: I think they should. I think it would be great. I think it would be great if there were no age limit. I think there should be...
KING: Why can't you have talent there?
ABDUL: There are many talented people.
KING: Wakefield, Massachusetts, hello? CALLER: Hi, Larry. I wanted to know. Can I marry Simon? Because I think he's so hunky. And I don't know why Paula -- why she isn't crazy about him.
SEACREST: Oh, wow.
KING: Is there any attraction? Can you find any attraction?
ABDUL: It's love-hate relationship.
KING: There is love then?
ABDUL: There is love there. And then there's times when I can't even stomach him.
KING: Would you date him?
ABDUL: No, because I'd have to face him after the date.
SEACREST: There was hesitation. That means a little hope. There was hesitation. That indicates a bit of hope.
ABDUL: You don't have to sit next to him. That's all I have to say.
SEACREST: Yes, but, I mean, think of your worst nightmare, and never waking up from that. That would be the rest of your life married to this man. And it would all be about him and not you. At Valentine's Day, it would be a celebration of him.
KING: That's right. He would say things to you, like, "Enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of me?"
ABDUL: I would always think he was cheating on me with himself.
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Anyway, we'll be back with a few more minutes with the group, and then we'll discuss that incredible case in South Carolina. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEACREST: Let's see what's out there in San Francisco.
(voice-over): As the wannabes warmed up, we wondered if they had come to the right audition. We found trombone players and some people looking for more than "American Idol" audition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, America, you're watching "American Idol" on Fox. My name is David Corbel (ph) and I'm auditioning for "American Idol" here and I'm also auditioning to take Ryan Seacrest's job.
SEACREST (voice-over): For some reason I don't feel too threatened by that guy. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That ain't bad.
SEACREST: He's pretty good that's why I had to say that on the track.
KING: Millersburg, Ohio. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. First of all I'd like to say to Paula, I'm a huge fan and I love the show. And my question is do you know if there is going to be auditions in Cleveland this summer?
KING: Do you sing?
CALLER: Yes, I do.
KING: Give us a couple of lines.
SEACREST: You sound like a rapper. You sure you sing?
CALLER: Yes, I'm not a rapper.
SEACREST: OK. All right.
KING: Do a couple of lines.
ABDUL: Larry, listen to you.
CALLER: OK, sing?
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: When I first saw you I already knew that there was something inside of you...
KING: I like her.
SEACREST: Let's go to our judges. Larry King, what do you think?
KING: I liked her a lot...
SEACREST: What did she have?
KING: She had talent, she had grace, she had performance level. And I liked the tone of your voice.
SEACREST: Larry would like to offer you a job singing at his home for dinner each and every night for the next month.
KING: You're going to Cleveland? When do you...
SEACREST: We don't make those decisions. We're going to get through the season first then we make decisions about next year.
KING: La Palma, California, hello.
CALLER: Hi. My question is for Ryan. I know you say you haven't gone in for the Botox shots. But I want to find out if it's true that you enjoyed the buttocks injection?
SEACREST: Yes. I haven't heard that one, but not a lot of experience in that area.
KING: By the way, someone called in and said, now, this was just was someone, that they saw you with Teri Hatcher.
SEACREST: You're driving me -- you're just driving this.
KING: I'm just reporting...
SEACREST: It's not a bad rumor. It would be a dream come true, wouldn't it?
KING: Why not?
ABDUL: Look at you.
SEACREST: It would be a dream come true.
KING: Maybe she's watching. Maybe she would like you.
SEACREST: Well, give me some advice if I were in a relationship or entering into a new one. For example, what are you doing for Shawn this Valentine's Day? What should I do for her?
KING: We go to dinner. And I get her a nice gift and I have two boys so they have to get her a gift, you know, it's a boy-girl...
SEACREST: They have to or they feel obligated to or they want to?
KING: They already told me what they want to get.
KING: I can't tell you on the air.
ABDUL: You can't blow it on television.
KING: OK, last call. Akron, Ohio. Hello.
Akron, are you there?
CALLER: Yes, hello.
CALLER: I was wondering. I kind of have two questions. What is the youngest you've ever had and would you consider lowering the age limit?
ABDUL: The youngest is 16 years old.
KING: What was the second part?
CALLER: And would you ever consider lowering the age limit?
KING: Lowering the age limit.
ABDUL: I think sixteen's the youngest it's going to be.
KING: By the way, I know anyone can show up for audition, clarinet players, right? Must you be a singer to be on "American Idol?"
SEACREST: To be on, to make it, yes. To show up, no. It's an open call. If you think you're...
KING: What if you had a guy come in with a clarinet, he came in front of you and he plays like Kenny G. What do you say to him?
SEACREST: We say that you're fantastic.
ABDUL: We say you play like Kenny G. Maybe we'll direct him to...
SEACREST: The right person who can help.
ABDUL: The right person who can help.
SEACREST: But that's not what this show does. This show's looking for a pop singer.
KING: Got to be a singer to make it.
ABDUL: Maybe hire him for the band when we have a band.
KING: Great seeing both of you as always. Continued good luck.
ABDUL: Great seeing you, too.
SEACREST: Thank you. Good to see you.
KING: May it last many moons. Give our best to Teri.
Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest. "American Idol" in its fourth season. When we come back, the subject will change dramatically to that story in South Carolina that might or might not involve the effects of an antidepressant. Don't go away.
KING: A young man, Christopher Pittman, now 15, is on trial as an adult in Charleston, South Carolina, for murdering his grandparents by shooting them in their sleep on November 28, 2001. He was 12 years old at the time. Joe Pittman was 66 and Joy was 60. There's no question that he did shoot them. The defense maintains it was due to the antidepressant Zoloft.
Our panel in New York: Nancy Grace, Court TV anchor, former prosecutor, her new show titled "Nancy Grace" debuts on CNN Headline News 8:00 p.m. Eastern February 20.
Dr. Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist.
In San Francisco, Michael Cardoza, defense attorney and former Alameda County prosecutor.
And in Charleston, South Carolina, CNN's excellent medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's been in the courtroom this week and last week. Get us up to date. What's the latest, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's the latest is that today the jurors continued to hear testimony from a defense psychiatrist who said, look, I have interviewed Chris many times since he's been in the juvenile detention center here in South Carolina. And she basically said to the jurors he's a good kid. He was a good kid before he took the Zoloft. When he went on the Zoloft within a couple of weeks she said he had what she called an antidepressant-induced mood disorder. She said that's why he shot his grandparents, that's why he lit the house on fire, that's why he fled. And she says that it was all because of the Zoloft. The prosecution of course argues with that.
Now what's interesting about this psychiatrist is that she is employed by the state of South Carolina. She usually actually testifies for the prosecution. Now we've learned the defense attorneys are right now, Larry, they're debating whether or not they are going to put Chris Pittman on the stand.
KING: Nancy, when you have a case like this in which, you're not a doctor, the jury's not doctors, the attorneys aren't doctors, how do you know who's right?
NANCY GRACE, COURT TV: Larry, I have been struggling with this case for weeks now. We're covering it live on Court TV. And you just have to look like the jury's going to look at it and look at the evidence. Now I agree with the defense doctor that this kid had exhibited no unusual behavior before he went on an antidepressant. But also, Larry, if you look at what happened, in this case, not only did he shoot both of his grandparents, the ones that had taken him in. He had nowhere to go. They took him in. They were loving and well- intentioned grandparents. They had been to a Christmas play rehearsal that night. Came home, the grandfather watched some nature program with the kid, goes to sleep.
He gets a .410 gauge shotgun, sneaks into their bedroom and shoots them...
KING: All right, but doesn't...
GRACE: But this is the tricky part, Larry, he shows the ability to reason. He leaves the scene, he burns down all the evidence, takes the family dog, some money and the murder weapon and leaves. And lies to police, first telling them that a black male intruder did the deed, that he was kidnapped. Then he writes a letter to the FDA saying he heard voices in his head. So, it seems like he's able to form intent.
KING: Then what in your opinion is the motive?
GRACE: You know what I think the motive will be if it is not the Zoloft, Larry, the day before this went down, he got -- he picked a fight on a younger boy on the school bus, a 9-year-old boy, and tried to choke him, Larry, by pushing his fingers down the boy's throat. When he got in trouble, his grandfather said, listen, you straighten up or you're going back home to Florida. Within 24 hours the grandparents were murdered.
KING: Dr. Ludwig, as a psychotherapist, I imagine you're acquainted with Zoloft.
DR. ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: I am. I have to say it is highly effective for many adults and many children. And it really is very frightening for psychiatrists and parents who's children are placed on Zoloft appropriately so, to hear stories like this.
Christopher, when he was placed on Zoloft, it was through a family doctor. And ideally, when any troubled child is depressed and has a history of hospitalization, they need to be seen by a child psychiatrist, who is familiar with children and their reactions to medication. And ideally, they should also have a psychotherapist and the family should also be in treatment, because very often when a child acts out in such a dramatic way, they're responding to dynamics that are going on within the family.
KING: Michael, before I ask you a question, this statement issued by Zoloft's maker, Pfizer. "The murders of Christopher Pittman's grandparents, while tragic, are no way connected to the use of Pfizer's anti-depressant Zoloft. When used as prescribed, Zoloft has provided effectivity and sometimes life saving treatment. It's unfortunate that unfounded allegations in the case may create undue concern on the part of patients who benefit most from this medication. They also say, that approximately 13 years doctors have been prescribing Zoloft to treat patients, more than 250 million prescriptions have been written.
How would you counter that as a defense attorney?
MICHAEL CARDOZA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Number one, I think they're going to get into Pfizer, and try to call someone from Pfizer to prove that they knew the dangers of this particular drug. What I find really interesting is, when Pfizer put this on the market, when they got FDA approval, they only tested it on adults. They didn't test it on children. So, hear you have a drug, that's all right to give to adults, no testing on the children, it comes out, doctors start to prescribe it to adults, and then they see the deleterious effects that it has on children. I think Pfizer has got a lot of questions to answer in this case. And I expect to see them testify in this case or at least some of the documents that the defense will discover explaining whether or not Pfizer knew about the dangers of Zoloft before they put it on the market.
KING: By the way, Christopher is out on bond. He's staying with his family in a rented home. CNN has exclusive photos of where he is. And Elizabeth, while we show the photos, I want to ask you, what is his defense? Is this by reason of insanity or not guilty because of Zoloft?
He's not actually claiming -- his lawyers aren't claiming by reason of insanity. What they're saying is that he was under involuntary intoxication. In other words, he took a prescription drug, just like he was supposed to, the family doctor prescribed it for him. And they say that it intoxicated him. And that it was involuntary, he didn't go out and get drunk or something like that. They say that he was under the influence of Zoloft.
Now it's interesting, the Food and Drug Administration did last October order what's called the black box warning, that's the toughest warning you can put on a drug. And they said, look, we have tried -- we have looked at the data. And what we've seen is, that there is a link between suicides among teenagers who are taking Zoloft and similar types of anti-depressants. And they warn doctors. And they warn parents to look for signs of agitation, to look for signs of hostility. They did not say that there was a link between these drugs and violence towards others, although Canadian health authorities have warned about that.
KING: Nancy, would that give you pause?
GRACE: Yes, it would give me pause. But I tell you this much, Larry, regarding this defense, in South Carolina they're going to be very limited in what they can argue this jury. She's right regarding the defense of involuntary intoxication. But they are also taking another step. It is a unique blend of involuntary intoxication and temporary insanity.
But here's the kicker, Larry, they're also trying to tell the jury that this doctor doubled the boy's dosage right just before the shooting. The doctor took the stand, he did not double the boy's dosage. So, they're going to have a very tough time showing that he was forced to take this much Zoloft.
KING: Dr. Ludwig, would you prescribe Zoloft to a minor?
LUDWIG: I would certainly respect a child psychiatrist who evaluated a child and felt that would be a worthwhile treatment to proceed with. Now, you have to remember that any medical doctor who is prescribing to a child, they closely observe that child, so that usually, they will meet with them weekly, they will talk with them and observe for any signs that should be of any concern. And you also have to look at the history. And I just want to support, that with the anti-depressants, there is a link in some cases compared to placebo, that it increase suicidal thoughts. But Nowhere did they find that it increased violent homicidal sociopathic behavior, that is not evident. But a medication is not a cure all. So, you can't entirely blame a medication. It has to be supervised, and I don't know if it was going on in this case.
KING: Michael, how does the lay community, the non-medical community deal with this?
How does a jury deal with this?
Lets say two psychiatrists, one says, I think it could have caused it, one says, I'm not sure. What do you do as a juror?
CARDOZA: It's difficult in this case. One of the things that I find fascinating is Dr. Atkins, she's the one testifying for the defense. But in 400 of the cases she's had working for the prosecution, this is only the third, where she said this little boy didn't have the capacity to committee this crime. You've got give some credence to that.
Then you have the defense psychiatrist, the other defense psychiatrist and the -- the psychiatrist of the people coming on, who only talked to Christopher for what, two hours, where Atkins, the defense psychiatrist, talked to Christopher for what was it, 40 hours and really got into talking and really understanding this young man. Juries look to that. How can a doctor after two hours say, oh the drug had nothing to do with this? That's what juries look to.
KING: From what you know, Michael, would you put him on the stand?
CARDOZA: You know, I wouldn't right now. Because you've got a guy sitting in the courtroom, he's six foot tall now, Larry. When the crime was committed, he was 5'2." There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with him now. And most jurors would look at him and say, well, if he's on the stand he appeared to be fine to me, he must have been fine back then. You have bring it in through the psychiatrist, to say the 5'2" 167 pound boy back then, a 12-year-old. To quote Nancy, "He was with a baby back then." You know, could he have really have formed the capacity? I don't think so.
And then, Nancy, when you mentioned the 50 milligrams, you're right, those -- that doctor didn't prescribe double dosage. But the boy, according to the family was doubling up. You know, I guess he thought if it helps one, two or three may be better. So the kid is given sort of carte blanche to the cookie jar, the medication.
GRACE: But that totally blows the defense of involuntary intoxication, because the doctor had ordered it. Number one, I never referred to this young man as a baby, I referred to him as a boy at age 12. But I do agree with you on this, Michael, I would not put this young man on the stand? Why, Larry, he will get so twisted around on cross-examination, it will ruin the appearance of innocence as he is sitting there with his head down crying at the table. KING: You're not questioning that he's crying?
GRACE: No, I'm not questioning that he's crying. I that he regrets killing his grandparents. But as the law says, one may regret the deed immediately, but that does not negate the intent. And you can't tell me, Larry, that Zoloft made him burn the house down after killing his sleeping grandparents with a shotgun and take off with the family dog.
KING: I'm not a doctor and I don't know. You know, I don't.
CARDOZA: Nancy. Nancy, one of the -- one of the things we have to revisit, I think, and really take a hard look at, should this kid, who commits a crime at 12 really be tried as an adult, especially in light of the fact he's taking Zoloft. It's been proved, Zoloft has deleterious effects on children, more suicides are committed.
CARDOZA: They don't test it on kids.
KING: I've got to get a break and come back. I've got to -- I understood what you said. I've got give break, come back with more. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUCINDA MCCELLAR, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENT: My grandpa said, if I came out he was going to beat with the paddle. I came out at about 10:00 something. I was going to get something to drink. My grandad got the paddle. I tried to get my shotgun. He hit me on back and my butt. Then he said, if I came back anymore, he would hit me across the head with it. When they went to bed, I waited about 10 minutes. I got the shotgun out of the cabinet. I took it in my room and loaded it. I took a box of shells from the cabinet. I put three in it, jacked one and put another one in it. I went in their room, I just aimed at the bed, I shot four times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, wait a minute. I shot...
MCCELLAR: Four times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE PITTMAN, CHRISTOPHER PITTMAN'S FATHER: When I was lying in my bed that night, I couldn't sleep because my voice in my head kept echoing through my mind telling me to kill them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Chris' father Joe testifying before Congress last year about antidepressants and children. Germantown, Maryland. We go to some calls. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. Good evening.
CALLER: This is Teri (ph).
KING: Go ahead. What's your question?
CALLER: I was wondering if the boy was supervised with the intake of his medication...
KING: Elizabeth, do you know?
CALLER: And I wonder if he overdosed himself.
KING: Apparently he took more than he was supposed to take, is that right, Elizabeth?
COHEN: Well, you know what? This whole overdosage issue is very unclear. Chris and his family say that he went from taking 50 milligrams a day, to 100 to 200, which is a big dose, especially for a 12-year-old child and that this happened all in the space of three weeks. The dosage is very important here because the higher the dosage, some doctors would say the more likely when you make those changes the more likely you are going to have some kind of behavior like this.
However the doctor who prescribed it, he said he had no recollection but looking at his records, he said he didn't increase the dosage. What's interesting here is that this was not a matter of the doctor handing a prescription filled to the pharmacy, then it would be easy to check. It was a starter pack where apparently the instructions for what to do were written on the bag that the starter pack was in. So it's a little bit fuzzy here.
KING: Atlanta, hello.
CALLER: Hi, how are you?
CALLER: I want to know if this boy was in psychotherapy while he was on this medicine or was he just given the medicine and basically sent home?
KING: Do we know, Nancy?
GRACE: I do. He was not in therapy. And Larry, another thing about Zoloft, Zoloft is not normally prescribed to children. They normally can get Prozac but not Paxil and not Zoloft.
COHEN: But Zoloft and Paxil actually are prescribed to children. They're not indicated by the Food and Drug Administration to have that happen. But doctors actually do do that and they're allowed to do that.
KING: Maybe they won't now.
GRACE: Yes, she's right. It's a common practice but it's not intended for them. They're not really supposed to but it's a very common practice.
KING: London, Ontario. Hello.
CALLER: Hi. I have a question for Nancy Grace. First of all, Nancy, I think you're really hot.
KING: The rest of the question?
How far -- Dr. Ludwig, what's going to be the key in this?
LUDWIG: You know, I guess they're going to have to assess his character. You have to remember, although it's rare and we don't like to think of children in this way, there are children who do kill and can kill with intention. This child had a very disturbed background. He was angry, and in some cases, children will use violence as a way to express or dispute some problem that they're having in the family. And that's certainly possible that that happened in this case.
KING: Michael, this will be a tough one, will it not?
CARDOZA: Well, you know, the defense has some things to argue about in this case. And remember, this is the involuntary intoxication defense. It's like a diminished capacity defense. What the prosecutor is looking for is a first degree murder. Murder with malice or forethought, that this 12-year-old who, you know, mind and brain is not really developed like an adult can really form malice or forethought when he is on this drug, Zoloft.
I think what the defense is really trying to do here is to reduce this crime down to an involuntary manslaughter and that's really going to reduce the time here. For first degree, the young man faces 30 years to life as an adult. Down to the involuntary manslaughter, it's a matter of years.
KING: And that could be pled, couldn't it, Nancy?
GRACE: Yes. They offered him a plea of 30. The defense rejected it. But you know what, Larry. It's like you said in the very beginning, this issue of Zoloft effect on a kid, it may be so mystifying to a jury as it is to us lay people, they may cut him a break.
KING: OK. Elizabeth, when will this trial end?
COHEN: That's unknown. We have been told that it will probably be about two weeks. Now it seems it might possibly be longer. The defense is just getting started its arguments where they're looking at documents from the Food & Drug Administration about other doctors who called in to the FDA saying that Zoloft made their patients react violently. KING: Thank you all very much. Nancy Grace, Dr. Robi Ludwig, Michael Cardoza, Elizabeth Cohen. Don't forget Nancy's show starts February 20, on CNN Headline News at 8:00 p.m. nightly. And I'll be back in a couple minutes and tell you about it. What a show we have tomorrow night. Don't go away.
KING: Remember that horrific nightclub accident in Providence, Rhode Island a while back? The group Great White entertaining. They used pyrotechnic flames. Well, a fire occurred. One of their band died and victims. Horrendous night. Well, for the first time ever tomorrow night the surviving members of Great White and surviving members of families of victims will be on this program together to discuss that evening.
Right now we move to New York and our man Aaron Brown, man of our town, dashing, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What is he wearing tonight? Nice little striped tie. I like the look.
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