An Eye for an Eye

A beloved doctor is murdered in cold blood

Produced By Ian Paisley, Lourdes Aguiar and Joe Halderman

This broadcast originally aired on Oct. 27, 2007. It was updated on July 8, 2008.

When 37-year-old Dr. Brian Stidham was found murdered in the parking lot outside his office on Oct. 5, 2004, it sent a chill through Tucson.

Stidham had been stabbed 15 times.

At first glance, the well-known and respected pediatric eye surgeon appeared to be the victim of a random crime. "What I knew was that Dr. Stidham had worked that evening. Did not come home at his regular time. His wife didn't know what had happened to him. And his vehicle, his 1992 Lexus, was missing," explains Detective Jill Murphy.

Born and raised in Longview, Texas, Stidham was the only son of Joyce and Mack Stidham.

Asked to describe her son, Joyce tells correspondent Peter Van Sant, "Oh, wonderful. Kind, considerate, always made people around him feel at ease, very hard worker, hard studier, very unpretentious."

After graduating with honors from Harvard Medical School, Stidham began his career in Dallas, where he met his wife, Daphne.

In 2001, Stidham got an offer to move to Tuscon to work alongside one of the finest eye surgeons in the country. Stidham and his wife visited, fell in love with the beauty of the region, and decided to take the offer.

Stidham's sister Andrea says her brother was looking forward to the move. "This was a dream job to him, absolutely," she tells Van Sant.

The dream job was with a practice called "Arizona Specialty Eye Care," where Stidham teamed up with a renowned surgeon named Bradley Schwartz.

Office manager Laurie Espinoza says it was a very successful business, and growing. She says in 2001, Dr. Schwartz's practice was pulling in more than $1 million a year. "We would have seen anywhere between 40 to 60 patients a day. People were having to wait a month just to have a surgery. And he finally said, 'You know what? We're going to have to add another partner.' And that was Dr. Stidham," she remembers.

Stidham's impact was immediate. "He really connected with some patients. And the patients loved him right away," Laurie remembers. "And they were a great team together."

But Laurie says the doctors had a different approach. "Dr. Schwartz was the type of doctor that came in every morning bright and early. And he would have his jacket and his tie on. And Dr. Stidham would come in dressed in just, you know, like a golfing outfit," she remembers.

Nearly a year into the job Stidham decided to start his own practice. Friend and colleague Dr. Joe Miller remembers when Stidham began seeing patients at the new office. "And he was doin' well. He had a good location. And patients were comin' to see him in droves," Miller recalls.

As his practice continued to expand, so did Stidham's family: Daphne gave birth to a daughter in August 2003. "He was so happy out here, in his marriage, with the children, they just had their little girl, they were getting ready to build their dream house," remembers his mother, Joyce.

But those dreams were shattered in October 2004.

Asked how Stidham's wife Daphne reacted to the news her husband was dead, Det. Murphy says, "She, according to the detectives there at the scene, she had already asked them, prior to them even telling her, that her husband was dead. If he had been shot. If he had died. So that was kind of an unusual response."

And this investigation was about to get even more unusual: asked what Daphne was doing that night, Murphy says, "She was looking over an estate planning document."

"Did that make them suspicious?" Van Sant asks.

"Yes, it did," Murphy says.