Thursday, March 9, 2006 Print This | Email This     

Doctor was killed in his car, though it was found miles from body

By Chris O'Connell, Court TV

TUCSON, Ariz. (Court TV) — Dr. Brian Stidham was attacked in his car, or while getting into his car, in the parking lot at his medical practice in October 2004, although the car was later found miles away, according to the lead investigator in the case.

Detective Jill Murphy of the Pima County Sheriff's department told jurors Wednesday that the pattern of blood inside Stidham's 1992 white Lexus led her to the conclusion the attack that took Stidham's life could not have occurred outside the car.

"The driver's door was open because there was no blood spatter on the exterior of the driver's door, and there was blood spatter on the interior," Murphy testified.

The detective led jurors through her examination of the crime scene in the early morning hours of Oct. 6, 2004, after Stidham's bloody body was discovered sprawled face-up in the parking lot outside his pediatric ophthalmology practice. His car was found the next day more than six miles from the initial crime scene in an apartment complex. The front door was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition.

Stidham's fellow pediatric ophthalmologist and former employer, Dr. Bradley Schwartz, is accused of hiring one of his patients, Ronald "Bruce" Bigger, to kill Stidham and make the murder look like a carjacking.

Though both men are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for Stidham's killing, they are being tried separately. Bigger's trial will be later this year.

Prosecutors say Schwartz blamed Stidham for stealing patients and business by opening a rival practice across town. While Schwartz was in rehabilitation for his addiction to prescription drugs, many of his patients began seeing Stidham.

Christine Rotella, a massage therapist who also testified as the state's first witness Tuesday, told jurors that she and her fianc E9 came across Stidham's body as they returned to retrieve her engagement ring, which she had left in her office. She called 911.

Murphy described for jurors the scene she encountered once arriving at the parking lot.

With Stidham's mother and sister tearfully looking on, Murphy displayed the crime scene photos. In one photo, Stidham's body is surrounded by a constellation of markers indicating where investigators found blood droplets.

Dressed in a dark suit and gold-rimmed glasses, Schwartz was calm as jurors viewed the photos. He occasionally conferred with his attorneys and took notes.

Murphy said measurements of blood spatter indicated Stidham stumbled for about 18 feet before collapsing onto the pavement after suffering 15 or more stab wounds and a fractured skull.

Investigators initially did not know who Stidham was until they were able to identify him by bloody vehicle registration papers around his body as well as the driver's license in his wallet.

There was also more than $60 in Stidham's wallet, Murphy said.

The money may make it more difficult for Schwartz's defense team to convince jurors that the murder was the result of a robbery gone bad by an unknown assailant.

Judge Nanette Warner ordered that all cameras and audio be shut off for the testimony of homicide detective Chris Hogan because he is currently on an undercover assignment.

Prosecutors used Hogan to introduce what could be a key piece of evidence to connect Bigger with Stidham's murder.

Hogan took samples of the blood stains from the inside of Stidham's car for DNA analysis, and prosecutors focused on one sample in particular, a blood stain on a car radio knob.

Prosecutors have indicated that tests showed the radio stain contains DNA that resembles Bigger's, as well as Stidham's.

But Schwartz's lawyer, Brick Storts, said during his opening statement that the tests were faulty and they only were able to partially identify the DNA as Bigger's.

Court TV Extra is streaming the trial live on the Web.

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