FLORENCE – On October 5, 2004, Tucson residents were shocked to learn of the brutal murder of a pediatric eye doctor in the parking lot of the medical complex where he worked. The well-liked husband and father of two built a successful practice caring for children. Then Dr. Brian Stidham was found in his office parking lot with a fractured skull and brutally stabbed 15 times.
His car was missing. At first, it looked like a vicious but random carjacking. Later Tucsonans would learn a far darker story. One colored by deceit, torrid love affairs, rage, jealousy, narcotic drug use and a stunning murder-for-hire scheme.
On Saturday, the National District Attorneys Association presented its highest honor to Pinal County Chief Criminal Deputy County Attorney Richard Platt and Deputy County Attorney Sylvia Lafferty. Platt and Lafferty are the latest inductees in the "Home Run Hitter's Club" for successfully prosecuting Stidham's murderer and a co-conspirator.
Dr. Bradley Schwartz, conspired to have his former business partner, Dr. Stidham, killed by a hit man. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Platt and Lafferty, Schwartz was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and is now serving a 25 year to life sentence. Schwartz' hired hit man, Ronald Bruce Bigger, who ambushed and stabbed Dr. Stidham 15 times, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Bigger was convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder.
The investigation uncovered conflicts of interest among attorneys in the Pima County Attorney's Office. The case was prosecuted by Pinal County after several Pima County Deputy Attorneys found themselves fired or disciplined for conflicts of interest.
Publicity and media interest ran high throughout the investigation and the grueling 19 weeks of trial. Lafferty and Platt interviewed 184 witnesses and called on 144 witnesses during the trials. Hundreds of exhibits were introduced and more than 30,000 pages of documents were disclosed before and during the trial.
Court TV covered the case, along with several daily newspapers and television media. Both trials were featured on the CBS program "48 Hours – Mystery." Numerous motions were filed as the case wound its way through the justice system and there were multiple hearings on the admissibility of evidence such as DNA tests. Conflicting testimony from expert witnesses and witness credibility issues including schizophrenia, drug addiction, gang involvement and felony convictions made the prosecution extremely difficult.
Pinal County Attorney James P. Walsh noted the tremendous personal sacrifices involved in prosecuting such a complex case.
"No matter how dedicated you are, a trial this complex and emotionally exhausting takes its toll on you and those around you, especially your family," Walsh said. "The attorneys deal daily with the vivid realities of a murder and the sordid details of a criminal's life. In this particular case, the whole community was dealing with the cruel loss of a beloved family man and respected doctor."
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall nominated Richard Platt and Sylvia Lafferty for the "Home Run Hitter" honor. According to its website, the National District Attorneys Association "annually inducts a select few prosecutors into the Home Run Hitters Club, to recognize their outstanding work in trying complicated and difficult high profile cases."
This is not the first major recognition for Platt and Lafferty. Last year they were named Felony Prosecutors of the Year by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council.
"I was proud to nominate Richard Platt and Sylvia Lafferty for the National District Attorneys Association Home Run Hitters Award," LaWall said. "Their performance on behalf of Pima County was truly outstanding. I am proud that Arizona prosecutors worked together to ensure public safety throughout our state."
Other recent honorees include Tom Sneddon, the Santa Barbara County district attorney who prosecuted the Michael Jackson case; and James Brazleton, the Stanislaus County district attorney who prosecuted Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife.