Does the name ‘Brad Schwartz’ ring a bell? You’re not alone
There may come a day when the name "Brad Schwartz" doesn't instantly conjure up headlines of a talented eye surgeon who had a rival eye surgeon killed.
But that day is not likely to come any day soon.
Case in point: Schwartz's notoriety permeated the trial of a man convicted of attacking the former physician in prison and is a key element in that man's appeal.
Jeffrey Allen Wood, 41, was convicted of aggravated assault after a two-day trial in May before Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo. Schwartz was the first witness.
Deputy County Attorney Mark Diebolt presented a case that Schwartz was minding his own business in a break from a creative writing class at the Arizona State Prison in Tucson when Wood made a derogatory comment about Schwartz being Jewish and beat him so severely that Schwartz has permanent facial damage.
Defense attorneys Donald Klein and Sandra Bensley presented a defense that alleged Schwartz, who still maintains his innocence in the 2004 slaying of Dr. Brian Stidham, sought to get beaten up in order to sue the Arizona Department of Corrections for failing to protect him.
Among the three issues raised by Assistant Pima County Public Defender David Euchner in the opening brief of Jeffrey Wood's appeal, filed last week at the Arizona Court of Appeals, is whether jurors should have heard about Schwartz's conviction for conspiracy to commit murder.
The Arizona Attorney General's Office, which is handling the appeal for the state, has not yet responded to Euchner's opening brief.
Euchner argues that knowing about Schwartz's murder conviction might have put some doubt in jurors' minds as to his credibility, particularly when Schwartz volunteered that he finds violence "disgusting and abhorrent" and when former prosecutor Bradley Roach testified for the defense that Schwartz had a bad temper.
"(Once) Dr. Schwartz opened the door during direct examination to his claimed character for peacefulness because he finds violence 'disgusting' and 'abhorrent,' it should have been open season for the defense to bring in any and all specific instances of conduct that rebutted his claim," Euchner wrote.
"Other than Bradley Roach's testimony that Dr. Schwartz could be physically aggressive, the jury heard nothing that would suggest that Dr. Schwartz would instigate an act of violence. Given the importance of Dr. Schwartz's credibility in this case, the jury may have realized that he was capable of an act of violence had it been aware of the nature of his conviction," Euchner wrote.
Wood jurors questioned about knowledge of Schwartz
On May 10, the first day of trial, Leonardo, Diebolt and Klein discussed whether to tell jurors that both Wood and Schwartz were in prison for murder.
"I guess there is a chance that some jurors would recognize probably Schwartz's name more than any other person's name, but we can deal with that," Diebolt said, according to trial transcripts that are part of Wood's appeal.
"If we don't mention the nature of Mr. Schwartz's prior (conviction), we run the risk that midway through the jury selection or during the trial, we're going to have a juror who says, 'Oh, I know that man, he's the guy who killed the other doctor or conspired to kill the other doctor,'" Klein said.
"Well, the point of it, and I think it is a legitimate one," Leonardo said, "is that that was a case of great notoriety that the victim was involved in."
Leonardo decided that the attorneys would ask prospective jurors whether they had heard about Schwartz. If they had, prospective jurors were called up to Leonardo's bench for a private conference.
"My heart is not in it," one prospective juror said. "I lost my daughter in the last year and the name Schwartz jumped out at me. I read the paper. I don't know, but I don't feel that my heart is in the right place yet."
"Two things," another member of the jury poo said. "First of all, I think I have already made up my mind about whether this gentleman is guilty or not. And also, I work as a physician at UPH and I see inmates all the time and I know all the guards there and they told me about Dr. Schwartz and his situation, so I think I am definitely not impartial at this point."
One prospective juror went so far as to call Schwartz "a real douche bag." Everyone who had a strong opinion about Schwartz hinted that they'd already convicted Wood in their minds and some went so far as to say they couldn't blame Wood, according to court transcripts filed in the appeal.
"I have read something about Mr. Schwartz and personally, I think he's a real douche bag and they should have let that guy finish him off," a prospective juror said.
"I knew the doctor that was murdered," said another prospective juror who babysat for Stidham's family, "so I would not really be fair as him being punched or a fair juror."
Another jury pool member, who is also a physician, said he believed he could be a fair juror even though many of his colleagues "have a lower opinion (of Schwartz) than I had from the press."
"It is one anecdote I was told, he had stolen equipment out of our operating room," the physician said.
"You understand this is not a referendum on Dr. Schwartz?" Leonardo asked.
"Yes," the physician said.
None of those prospective jurors was chosen for the final panel that heard Wood's case. Though attorneys worried that the jury pool was shrinking fast, they were able to seat eight jurors and one alternate.
Schwartz convicted of hiring hit man to kill Stidham
Schwartz was convicted of hiring Ronald Bruce Bigger in October 2004 to kill Stidham, who once worked for Schwartz. Prosecutors said Schwartz, who is serving a life sentence, blamed Stidham for a life that had spiraled out of control after losing his medical license for a prescription drug habit.
Stidham was stabbed to death on Oct. 5, 2004, in the parking lot near his office in a medical complex on North First Avenue near River Road.
Bigger is serving two concurrent life sentences for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
In May, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected Bigger's appeal, in which one of his claims was that he was denied a fair trial due to "extensive and prejudicial press coverage" that included more than 1,400 TV news segments, 300 newspaper articles and other electronic media, including blogs and a website, according to evidence submitted by Bigger's appellate attorney, Larry Hammond of Phoenix.
The appellate court said jurors weren't unduly influenced by the media coverage, even though 83 percent of the pool from which the jury was selected said they had been exposed to pretrial publicity.
Schwartz's attorney, Brick P. Storts, is set to argue his appeal before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 13. Schwartz's lawsuit against DOC should come to trial sometime next year in Maricopa County Superior Court, Storts said.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall turned the Stidham case over to Pinal County, citing conflict of interest because Schwartz had been engaged to former prosecutor Lourdes Lopez. Roach and several other prosecutors lost their jobs over their friendship with Lopez and her ties to Schwartz.
With LaWall's office prosecuting Wood, prosecutor Diebolt had the unenviable task of defending – to a point – Schwartz's integrity, even when his former colleague, Roach, was called to impeach Schwartz's credibility as a witness.
Intense media scrutiny
Stidham's murder not only was followed locally, but nationally as major newspapers and TV shows featured various aspects of the case.
In contrast, Wood's 1997 murder conviction out of Mohave County, for which he was serving a 22-year sentence at the time of Schwartz's beating, is much less well known.
Nevertheless, Wood got a taste of what it's like to be in the headlines during his recent trial.
An Arizona Daily Star reporter wrote about the heavily tattooed Wood on May 12.
"Oh, sources say that when Wood closes his eyes, you can see swastikas on his eyelids," Kim Smith blogged. "That's relevant because Schwartz testified Wood called him a 'dirty Jew' and other nasty names during the assault."
At sentencing, Klein called that post an example of "ridiculous" media falsehoods about Wood.
"He can (close) his (eyelids) now and the court can see there is absolutely nothing there," Klein said.
"Yeah, I have certain political views that could easily be slanted that way," Wood told Leonardo before being sentenced to 10 years, "but that was not what this was about."
"I don't know what your motivation was, Mr. Wood," Leonard said, "but I don't attribute any anti-Semitic motive to you."
Schwartz's lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections, in which he claims the prison system failed to protect him after several assaults, is still wending its way through Pima County Superior Court.
A.J. Flick is an experienced criminal justice reporter, author of a book to be published next year on notorious Arizona crimes and a member of the steering committee for the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty.