Schwartz's Defense

The Brad Schwartz saga moves from the Merit Commission to the courtroom

When deputies arrived at Brad Schwartz's luxury apartment on Oct. 15, they found the doctor naked, entertaining his femme du nuit. He was arrested and hustled out so fast that his scrub top was thrown on backward. Once at the sheriff's Benson Highway headquarters, he had remarkably polite exchanges with the detective who built the case against him. He also got help adjusting his shirt and his handcuffs in ways to avoid pain to his surgically repaired shoulder.

Arrested for the Oct. 5 murder of Dr. David Brian Stidham, Schwartz, once a gifted ophthalmologist, grew frantic moments later as he pleaded with his former lover, Lourdes Lopez, a lawyer who has since said under oath and in hysterical talks with friends that Schwartz had repeatedly told her in the past few years that he wanted to have Stidham killed.

"So I want you to be my attorney. Why not? Why not? Why? You're the best. ... I need you to help me defend my life here. Why not?" Schwartz pleaded before being transferred to the Pima County Jail, where he has been held ever since, along with Ronald Bruce Bigger, the Indiana fugitive accused of stabbing and battering Stidham for Schwartz.

"Do it for my children," Schwartz pleaded with Lopez, according to transcripts of the recording of his side of the call. "This is my life. ... That's your job, Lourdes. You know that. That's what you swore to do. You tell me every day you take people on that you don't believe and, and you did it with the guy with the church, OK? Why did he deserve your representation, and I don't? So I deserve less than that?"

Schwartz begged Lopez to join his chief lawyer, Michael Piccarreta, who soon after withdrew because Schwartz could not afford him.

"Mike is good; you're the best," Schwartz told Lopez. "You're the best. If, Lourdes, if you were going blind or your father was going blind or your mother was going blind, you would come to me. ... You do criminal defense whether you believe the person is innocent or guilty or not. You do that. You've told me, that is, everyone in this country has the system, that you tell me everybody in this country deserves equal representation."

His pleading didn't work.

A week before his arrest, Lopez told Det. Jill Murphy that Schwartz obsessively ranted that he wanted to Stidham, a former associate, killed. She said he told her that he would have someone else do it and make it look like a carjacking at Stidham's office at 4727 N. First Ave.

Lopez and Schwartz broke off their engagement in May 2004, though they continued to talk. She helped him with his office bookkeeping and represented him on a personal-injury case until March of this year.

Brick Storts, the court-appointed lawyer representing Schwartz, is asking for the case to be sent back to the grand jury. Storts claims that Lopez violated Schwartz's attorney-client privilege. He also contends that the grand jury, which heard the prosecution's side of the case on Oct. 25, should have heard about how Daphne Stidham reacted when she was told her husband was dead, and that estate and will papers were out on a bedroom sofa when deputies arrived to notify her. Storts also says prosecutors should have followed instructions that Piccarreta outlined in an Oct. 21 letter.

Judge Nanette Warner of Pima County Superior Court will hear arguments on the motions on Friday, May 13, at 10:15 a.m.

Storts says the attorney-client issue "was complicated by virtue of the defendant's personal relationship with his attorney, Lourdes Lopez. The attorney-client relationship between the defendant and Ms. Lopez placed the defendant in the position of believing that their conversations were privileged in nature."

Richard Platt, one of two Pinal County attorneys prosecuting Schwartz and Bigger, said in a court response that "fortunately, the law is not as broad as the defendant claims it is. The attorney-client privilege only protects communications between an attorney and a client that were made in confidence for the purpose of obtaining or providing legal assistance ... none of the statements attributed to Lourdes Lopez (at the grand jury) are related to her 'attorney-client' relationship with Dr. Schwartz."

Moreover, Platt said, Lopez provided testimony similar to statements given by four other women, including three whom Schwartz dated. Lilliana Bibb said she dated Schwartz for four weeks last summer and that Schwartz told her that he hated Stidham and that he wanted him injured or "put six feet under," according to Platt's response to Storts' motion.

Schwartz took Bibb to the parking lot of Dr. Stidham's office one night and "pointed out there were no cameras, no one could see what was going on and how he had planned it to look like a robbery," Platt wrote.

Lisa Goldberg had five dates with Schwartz and was with Schwartz at a Thai restaurant the night Stidham was killed and when Bigger met up with Schwartz to get a ride and a hotel room.

Platt wrote that Goldberg told Det. Murphy that Schwartz "wanted to kill his partner and how he was obsessed about 'how his partner had screwed him.'"

The public display, Piccarreta said, actually pierces the prosecution's theory.

"Persons engaging the service of killers-for-hire generally do not meet publicly, in the presence of witnesses, and generally do not create easily discoverable paper trails such as credit-card receipts," Piccarreta said in letter to prosecutors before Schwartz was formally charged.

Platt said another woman, Rachel Atkinson, dated Schwartz last year and told Det. Murphy that she was "aware of Dr. Schwartz's hatred towards Dr. Stidham for the reason that Dr. Stidham took patients away from him after the breakup of their partnership."

The fourth woman, Esperanza Caranza, was the girlfriend of Danny Lopez, Lourdes Lopez's ex-husband. Schwartz was friendly with Danny Lopez. Caranza told authorities that she "overheard Dr. Schwartz ask her boyfriend if he could find somebody to kill another doctor," Platt said in court papers.

Danny Lopez was gunned down in March 2004 in an Omaha drug battle.

That others heard the same Schwartz threats, Platt said, "is further evidence that any similar statement the defendant may have made to Lourdes was not for the purpose of obtaining or providing legal assistance."

Piccarreta attempted to dispel the allegation that Schwartz harbored such hatred for Stidham.

"The grand jury should be advised that there was no litigation over the breakup of the partnership and that Dr. Schwartz did not even attempt to enforce Dr. Stidham's 'covenant not to compete' with Dr. Schwartz ... there was no evidence of hostilities over the dissolution of the partnership," Piccarreta wrote in an Oct. 21 letter to Baird Greene, the deputy Pima County attorney who was handling the case before it was referred because of conflicts of interest to the Pinal County Attorney's Office.

Schwartz had shifted to adult care and was doing well, "grossing approximately $30,000 a month," and the practice was "growing," Piccarreta said.

"From the time the partnership was dissolved almost three years ago, continuing to the time Dr. Stidham's body was discovered, there were no major confrontations, physical altercations or dramatic or heated exchanges between Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Stidham at any time," Piccarreta said.

Daphne Stidham, Storts says, acted in a "bizarre" manner according to reports from deputies who awakened her shortly after midnight to tell her that her husband was dead.

"Without even looking to see whether her husband was in bed, Ms. Stidham was immediately asking questions about whether or not he was murdered," Storts wrote in papers filed last week in Superior Court. "She did not ask whether or not he had been involved in an accident. She automatically assumed that someone else had caused his death.

"The question is not, at this point, whether Daphne Stidham is actually responsible for her husband's death. The question is whether the grand jury should have been presented with the evidence concerning her behavior and comments during this first contact," Storts wrote.

Platt countered that Storts omitted Daphne Stidham's comment to deputies that "healthy men her husband's age don't just fall over dead."

As to the will, Platt said the document was simply a letter from the Stidham's estate-planning lawyer.

The Sept. 27 letter from Jill D. Wiley, included in the court file, outlined shifting of property and other assets into a trust and noted that the couple "recently acquired a term policy insuring Brian's life with MetLife."

Despite an outpouring of support--700 people participated in a memorial walk for her husband at Sabino Canyon--Daphne Stidham sold the family's Ventana Vista home to a neighbor for $390,000 on Dec. 1 after she had moved with her two young children to be closer to her family and Stidham's family in Texas. Stidham's body was cremated in Tucson on Oct. 11. Daphne Stidham has not sold the Sabino Canyon-area lot that the couple bought for $335,000 in July 2003. They had planned to build a home there.

Gerald Maltz, a lawyer for Daphne Stidham, has filed a $20 million claim against Pima County, asserting that Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Paul Skitzki, a previous Lopez confidante and former deputy county attorney, "had in their possession specific details and critical information relating to the planned murder of Dr. Brian Stidham by Bradley Schwartz before the murder."

Schwartz is tapped out while his ex-wife, Joan, logged a nearly $300,000 profit from the $830,000 sale of their Pinnacle Ridge home in January.

Storts is doing battle over events in Schwartz's new world.

Det. Murphy got a search warrant on March 10 for Schwartz's cell after Carroll Carson Sanders, a convicted swindler awaiting his prison sentence, gave his lawyer three notes.

Sanders said Schwartz handed him two notes, and a jail officer passed the other. The first note was on a torn piece of paper with a mug shot of a criminal known to the sheriff's deputies. The note discussed details of Stidham's murder and described the man in the photo. The writer, according to Det. Murphy, "suggests that Carroll's son could 'say' that the man brought Dr. Stidham's vehicle (a 1992 white Lexus coupe) to his auto repair shop, tried to sell it and was acting 'weird.'"

The writer of the note also advises Carroll to keep the story "simple and consistent" and provides the phone number for Storts.

A second note was addressed to Sanders and included the license plate for Stidham's Lexus. A third note gave eight points of the Stidham murder and more information about the man the writer said was responsible.

Det. Murphy, in her request for a search warrant, said Schwartz "hoped that Sanders would help him by getting his son to tell the police that he saw (the man) in the victim's vehicle the night of the murder. Mr. Sanders advised that Dr. Bradley Schwartz offered him five thousand dollars for his help in this matter."

Storts replied in court papers, saying "this is simply not so. In fact, Mr. Sanders attempted to 'shake down' Dr. Schwartz at the Pima County Jail and threatened that unless Dr. Schwartz paid him, he would have someone on the outside plant evidence against him and/or offer unfavorable testimony."

Sanders, according to court files, was indicted in December on 36 counts of fraud and theft. He pleaded guilty on Feb. 11 to two counts, including one for bilking a couple out of $306,625.

Storts, in a March 7 court hearing, disclosed a letter that was purportedly written by Brandon West, another county jail inmate. The letter claims that a man was going to take Stidham's Lexus to a chop shop near Dodge Boulevard and Bellevue Street in midtown Tucson. Stidham's Lexus was found in that area. The letter says the chop shop wouldn't take the car because it had too much blood.

Det. Murphy said Schwartz wrote the Brandon West letter hoping to pin the murder on someone else.