Murder of Brian Stidham

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David Brian Stidham (August 13, 1967 – October 5, 2004)[1] was a pediatric ophthalmologist stabbed to death in Tucson, Arizona as the result of a murder-for-hire plot that stemmed from a colleague's professional jealousy. Bradley Alan Schwartz, also a pediatric ophthalmologist, and Ronald Bruce Bigger, a hitman, were arrested and convicted for the murder.[2][3]

Brian Stidham[edit]

Background[edit]

Stidham was born and raised in Longview, Texas, the son of Mack and Joyce Stidham.[4] His father was Baptist and his mother was Jewish.[5] He graduated from Longview High School in 1985, then enrolled at Vanderbilt University where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude.[6][7] Stidham graduated from Harvard Medical School in three years, then moved to Dallas where he entered a residency program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.[6][7] While in Dallas, he met Daphne Herding whom he married in 1997.[6] The couple moved to Indianapolis where Stidham undertook a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus at Indiana University.[6][7] They returned to Texas when Stidham joined the The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston as a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology.[7][8]

Relocation to Tucson[edit]

In 2001, Stidham answered an ad Bradley Schwartz had placed in a trade journal seeking someone to care for the pediatric patients in his Tucson ophthalmology practice entitled Arizona Specialty Eye Care.[6][9] In September 2001, he signed a two-year contract with Schwartz.[8] Although Schwartz was a successful pediatric ophthalmologist, he hired Stidham because he wanted to open a plastic surgery practice.[10][11][12]According to one report, Schwartz intended for Stidham to take over the pediatric ophthalmology aspect of the practice while he opened another office on the north side of the city.[13]

Bradley Schwartz[edit]

Background[edit]

Bradley Schwartz was born January 14, 1965[14] in Brooklyn, New York to Henry and Lois Schwartz.[9][15] He graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine.[9][16] In 1991, Schwartz was married to his wife, Joan, in New York City and the couple subsequently had three children.[9] He worked at a hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania prior to obtaining his license to practice medicine by the Arizona Medical Board in July, 1998.[9][16][17] He moved with his family to Arizona in the late 1990s when a Phoenix ophthalmology group hired him to open an office in Tucson.[8][9][16] One year later when his contract expired, the group sued him for violating a restrictive covenant when he opened his own practice less than 200 yards away.[8] The two sides settled out of court with the Phoenix group characterizing his behavior as "obscene, abusive, and belligerent".[8]

Drug abuse, DEA investigation, and indictment[edit]

From early 2001 to May, 2004, Schwartz was involved in a romantic relationship with the foster mother of one of his patients, Pima County deputy attorney Lourdes Salomón Lopez.[18] Schwartz developed a drug problem that began in 2000 when he received Vicodin for chronic neck and shoulder pain.[8] Over a two-month period during the summer of 2001, Lopez allowed Schwartz to use her name to fraudulently obtain prescriptions for the controlled substance hydrocodone.[18] In October 2001, two DEA agents interviewed Lopez as part of a criminal investigation involving Schwartz.[18] Although she was instructed not to discuss their interview with Schwartz, she told Schwartz about the investigation and interview within the following 24 hours.[18] On December 13, 2001, DEA agents raided Schwartz's office.[19] In September 2002, a grand jury issued a 77-count indictment on charges related to Schwartz writing Vicodin and Ritalin prescriptions for two patients (his office manager, Laurie Espinoza, and his girlfriend, Lourdes Lopez) who returned the drugs to him for his own use.[16][17] Schwartz initially pleaded "guilty" in 2003, however, the plea was withdrawn in early 2004.[17] In June 2003, Schwartz and Lopez were involved in a domestic altercation which resulted in an amendment to the conditions for their release prohibiting them from having contact with each other.[18] In March 2004, the condition of release were modified to allow the two to have contact with each other, however, in the interim the two had continued to see each other and were even engaged.[18][20] In November 2003, Schwartz was placed on five year's probation for "unprofessional conduct" by the Arizona Medical Board.[16][17] Schwartz attended rehab later that year and admitted that he had a drug problem.[16]

The professional relationship between Schwartz and Stidham is severed[edit]

In December, 2001, Stidham was in surgery on the day of the DEA raid.[8] He was among those who testified about Schwartz's drug addiction.[16] Stidham was Schwartz's associate (employee physician) until October 2002.[21] Once the indictment was issued, Stidham gave 30 days notice and made plans to open his own practice.[22] (Schwartz's wife, Joan, filed for divorce that same month.[9] They would reach a divorce settlement in January 2004.[23]) During his absence, many of Schwartz's patients went to see Stidham with many of them staying with Stidham when Schwartz returned to practice.[16] Henry and Lois Schwartz would later testify that Stidham was fired for actively recruiting patients and staff for his new practice while their son was in rehab.[15][24]

During this time, Stidham was seeing all of the patients of the medical practice.[25] His departure followed Schwartz' suspension for writing narcotic painkillers for his back pain and having his girlfriend, county attorney Lourdes Salomón Lopez, obtain narcotics for Schwartz.[4]

Later, although Stidham started his own medical practice on the opposite side of Tucson, Schwartz thought Stidham was stealing his patients. He allegedly told his friends that he wanted to kill Stidham.[4]


Murder and investigation[edit]

On the evening of October 5, 2004, deputies of the Pima County Sheriff's Office responded to a report of a man down in the parking lot of the North First Medical Plaza where Stidham worked.[1][2] The victim, identified as Stidham, had been stabbed 15 times and his skull was fractured.[2] He was killed in his 1992 white Lexus SC400[1] and dragged from his car to make it look like a robbery but the car was later found [4] at an apartment complex over six miles away.[26] Stidham's car was covered in blood suggesting that he was killed there and the body moved to his office before the car was driven several miles away.[citation needed] Schwartz was the case's primary suspect from Oct. 6 forward, the day after Stidham's murder.[4][9]

On the night of the murder, Schwartz was with Lisa Goldberg, a girlfriend he had recently begun seeing after meeting her on an online dating service.[22] The following day after a conversation in which Schwartz denied to her that he was involved in the murder, Goldberg telephoned the police to report her suspicions and indicated that a man named "Bruce" had joined them while they were at dinner.[27]

The investigation eventually revealed that Schwartz hired one of his patients, Ronald Bruce Bigger, for $10,000 to help him.[2][28] Bigger had previously been convicted of criminal recklessness, check deception, and possession of marijuana in LaPorte, Indiana and was a fugitive from that state.[29][30] Schwartz was with his girlfriend in a public restroom but there are cell phone records linking Schwartz' cell phone to a convenience store pay phone, where Bigger allegedly visited that evening, and to Bigger's hotel, which was paid for by Schwartz. A sample of DNA linked to Bigger was found on the radio knob of Stidham's car.[31]

On October 15, Schwartz was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder.[16] When police arrived at his apartment, he was found naked with a woman.[30] He was taken away with such haste that his shirt was on backwards.[30]

On October 28, Lopez reported that prior to the murder she expressed to Paul Skitzki, a county prosecutor with whom she was on friendly terms, her concerns about what Schwartz might do to Stidham.[32]

Trials and convictions[edit]

On October 15, Schwartz and Bigger were both charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.[2][21] Schwartz's trial lasted two months and it took the jury five days to deliver a verdict.[33] He never took the stand.[34] Schwartz was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to murder Stidham. A hung jury could not decide on the first degree murder charge.[4] After serving 25 years, he will be eligible for parole in 2029, when he will be 64. Bigger was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole.[35]

Aftermath[edit]

In August 2005, Mrs. Stidham filed a wrongful death suit against Pima County claiming that Lopez and Skitzki both knew that Schwartz wanted her husband dead but failed to warn him.[36] She settled for $2.29 million in October 2007.[37]

In 2005, the State Bar of Arizona filed a complaint charging that Lopez had engaged in criminal conduct. Two years later, she was disbarred by the Arizona Supreme Court due to her 2002 indictment on federal drug charges.[20][38]

In March 2009, Schwartz filed a claim against the Arizona Department of Corrections for $750,000 for injuries sustained while in prison.[35] According to the Tucson Citizen, Brick Storts, Schwartz's defense attorney, claimed that Schwartz is blind in one eye due to injuries during a September 2008 assault by another inmate.[35] The Arizona Daily Star reported Storts as saying that Schwartz's right eyelid droops and that he has "vision problems" in that eye.[39]

Media coverage[edit]

According to Bonnie Booth of the American Medical News, the rarity of physician-on-physician crime was the likely reason that the trial drew so much media attention.[2] In addition to local media outlets, Court TV and CBS's 48 Hours provided coverage to a national audience.[2][4][26] A.J. Flick, a reporter who covered the case for the Tucson Citizen, wrote a book published in 2008 entitled Murder in the Old Pueblo: The True Story of the Brian Stidham Murder Case.[40] On July 31, 2009, the events surrounding the 2004 murder was broadcast in the United Kingdom on Discovery Channel.[41][42] The events of the murder were also covered by an episode of Forensic Files, titled Office Visit, aired January 22, 2010 on truTV.[31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Media Release from the Pima County Sheriff's Department Dawn R. Barkman, October 6, 2004
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Murder conspiracy case grabs media glare in the Courts Bonnie Booth, AMNews, July 10, 2006
  3. ^ Daphne Stidham ends her silence. Stephanie Innes, Arizona Daily Star, 13 November 2004
  4. ^ a b c d e f g An Eye For An Eye - A Beloved Doctor Is Murdered In Cold Blood CBS news July 8, 2008
  5. ^ A.J. Flick (Nov 13, 2004). "Tucson Citizen Morgue, Part 2 (1993-2009): Lives intersect at killing". Tucson Citizen. "Two years after they met, Brian and Daphne were married in a simple garden courtyard wedding that diplomatically sidestepped their mixed heritages. Brian’s father is Baptist and his mother Jewish; Daphne’s mother is Catholic and her father Lutheran." 
  6. ^ a b c d e Longtime friend remembers slain Dr. Stidham A.J. Flick, Tucson Citizen, May 11, 2007
  7. ^ a b c d [1][dead link]
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Skyscape Content: MURDERED". Mediwire.skyscape.com. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Herreras, Mari. "The Murder of Dr. David Stidham | Feature". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  10. ^ "Doctor Charged in Ordering Hit on Fellow MD". Fox News. December 2, 2004. 
  11. ^ Smith, Nick. "Forward Motion | Currents Feature". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  12. ^ Herreras, Mari. "The Skinny | The Skinny". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  13. ^ "Prescription for Revenge - ABC News". Media.abcnews.com. 2007-02-02. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  14. ^ "Information for Inmate 207346 SCHWARTZ". Azcorrections.gov. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  15. ^ a b http://regulus2.azstarnet.com/blogs/gavel-to-gavel/1496/MomandDad
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Who is Dr. Bradley Schwartz? Ex-Girlfriend Speaks Out - KOLD News 13". Kold.com. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  17. ^ a b c d [2][dead link]
  18. ^ a b c d e f http://www.supreme.state.az.us/dc/2006_scanned/HO_Reports/Lopez_HO_rpt1.pdf
  19. ^ "Prescription for Revenge - ABC News". Media.abcnews.com. 2004-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  20. ^ a b http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/hourlyupdate/213968.php
  21. ^ a b "Arizona Daily Wildcat - Two men charged in murder of UA doctor - Tuesday, October 19, 2004". Wc.arizona.edu. 2004-10-19. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  22. ^ a b "An Eye For An Eye". CBS News. October 25, 2007. 
  23. ^ Herreras, Mari. "The Skinny | The Skinny". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  24. ^ "Schwartz’s parents say son OK’d firing Stidham - Tucson Citizen Morgue (1992–2009)". Tucsoncitizen.com. 2006-03-31. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  25. ^ Prescription for Revenge Lynn Sherr, Feb. 2, 2007
  26. ^ a b Doctor was killed in his car, though it was found miles from body| Chris O'Connell, Court TV
  27. ^ "An Eye For An Eye". CBS News. October 25, 2007. 
  28. ^ Jurors: Hit man duped into murdering doctor, A. J. Flick
  29. ^ http://www.azstarnet.com/subsections/includes2/schwartz/documents/indictment.pdf
  30. ^ a b c Smith, Nick. "Schwartz's Defense | Currents Feature". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  31. ^ a b "Forensic Files: Episode - "Office Visit" on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  32. ^ The Murder of Dr. David Stidham. What the county attorneys knew, when they knew it and what they did about it Chris Limberis
  33. ^ "Prescription for Revenge - ABC News". Media.abcnews.com. 2007-02-02. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  34. ^ "An Eye For An Eye". CBS News. October 25, 2007. 
  35. ^ a b c "Eye doctor convicted of hiring hit man sues state after prison beating - Tucson Citizen Morgue (1992–2009)". Tucsoncitizen.com. 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  36. ^ County Attorney Barbara LaWall backpedals after the widow of Dr. Brian Stidham files a lawsuit Chris Limberis
  37. ^ Smith, Kim (October 10, 2007). "Mrs. Stidham settles suit for $2.29M: County, LaWall, ex-prosecutor Lopez dismissed from case of slain eye doctor.". Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona). Retrieved August 6, 2009. "The widow of slain eye surgeon Dr. David Brian Stidham has settled her lawsuit against the county for $2.29 million." 
  38. ^ [3][dead link]
  39. ^ http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/hourlyupdate/264034.php
  40. ^ "Murder in the Old Pueblo: The True Story of the Brian Stidham Murder Case (9781933264394): A. J. Flick: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  41. ^ "Discovery Channel Solved". Discoverychannel.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  42. ^ [4][dead link]

External links[edit]