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Two men charged in murder of UA doctor

By Kris Cabulong
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
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Two men have been charged with the murder of Dr. David Brian Stidham, the 37-year-old pediatric ophthalmologist and UA College of Medicine clinical instructor found stabbed to death earlier this month. One of the men is Stidham's former medical partner.

Stidham was found dead Oct. 5 in the parking lot of North First Medical Plaza on the 4700 block of North First Avenue. He was stabbed 17 times.

Dr. Bradley A. Schwartz, 39, and Ronald Bruce Bigger, 38, were arrested Friday evening. Schwartz was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, and Bigger was charged with murder in the first degree, said Deputy Dawn Barkman, Pima County Sheriff Public Information Officer.

The arrests were made after police received multiple tips linking Schwartz and Bigger to the murder, Barkman said.

"We have statements from a number of people who say that Dr. Schwartz tried to get a hit man to kill Dr. Stidham," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. "There have been over the past two weeks numerous calls from the medical community and others providing us with very compelling information,"

Dupnik said many people said there had been "animosity" between Stidham and his former partner, Schwartz.

Dupnik said in the days following the murder, Schwartz, who allegedly hired Bigger to kill Stidham, actively tried to get people to provide him with an alibi.

"His behavior is very unusual and kind of bizarre for a medical professional," said Dupnik.

Dupnik said while Schwartz, who is also a pediatric ophthalmologist, was wearing scrubs when he was booked into prison, Schwartz was naked when police arrived at his house Friday.

"Dr. Schwartz apparently had a lot of female acquaintances. At the time of his arrest, he was home with one of them," Dupnik said.

Bigger, whose criminal history includes drug and assault charges earlier this month, was allegedly paid a "substantial amount" to murder Stidham, Dupnik said.

The scene of the homicide originally looked like a carjacking, but investigations revealed strong evidence for a premeditated homicide, Dupnik said.

In addition to 17 stab wounds, Stidham's skull was fractured. The amount of blood in Stidham's car, recovered six miles away the following day, was a strong indication that the killing was committed inside the vehicle, Dupnik said.

Stidham's wallet was on his person. There were only two vehicles in the lot at North First Medical Plaza. One was a stolen vehicle that was probably taken by the murderer, Dupnik said.

Dupnik said many of the tips police received suggested Schwartz was "very, very angry at Dr. Stidham," and that Schwartz had for a long time blamed Stidham for stealing his clients.

Schwartz and Stidham were partners in a Tucson practice until October 2002, Dupnik said.

Superior Court records revealed Schwartz had a string of legal problems in the past. The Arizona Daily Star reported Schwartz was abusing Ritalin and hydrocodone (Vicodin) tablets and was forced to surrender his registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency when he was caught in 2000.

Schwartz was writing prescriptions for two patients at 90 to 150 tablets at a time, who in turn would return the drugs to Schwartz, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The Board of Medical Examiners suspended Schwartz's license to practice medicine in 2003. While Schwartz was on probation, most of his patients were referred to Stidham, where they decided to stay, said Dupnik.

"First of all, (Schwartz) couldn't see his patients because he couldn't practice. And second of all, once he developed all these legal problems, the doctors quit referring patients to him," said Dupnik. "It really wasn't Stidham's fault."

Joseph Miller, professor and head of ophthalmology at UMC, was a friend of Stidham, a Harvard Medical School graduate.

"He and I were friends, first of all," said Miller. "We were both pediatric ophthalmologists. We took care of children with pediatric eye problems."

Stidham was a volunteer faculty member of the College of Medicine, and taught resident pediatric students at the Tucson Medical Center.

"Brian had lectured to the ophthalmology residents the night he was murdered," said Miller. "I'll probably be picking up those lectures."

Miller said Stidham chose pediatrics because the doctor enjoyed working with problems children dealt with.

There are now only two practicing pediatric ophthalmologists in Tucson, Dupnik said.

David Stidham is survived by his wife, Daphne, and their two children. Katherine, 2, and Alexandre, 1.

Miller said the family is staying with Daphne Stidham's parents in Texas.

Dupnik said the family is "totally devastated."

"(Stidham) was a very good, well-respected specialist. It was a pleasure to work with him," Miller said.

A college fund for Stidham's children has been established by friends and co-workers, said Miller. Donations can be sent to the Stidham Children Fund, account number 1811704479, at Northern Trust Bank, 3450 E. Sunrise Drive.

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