In the early-morning hours of December 28, 2019, Matthew Schwartz was driving through northwest Phoenix, heading home from a friend’s house and definitely not sober. A blood analysis would eventually show that the 33-year-old Phoenix man had a medley of drugs in his system, including methamphetamine, court records show.
That same night, Anothony Salvatore Naccarelli, 22, was sitting in his car at a red light on North 51st Avenue at West Union Hills Drive after working a long shift at the Blue Martini, a nightlife spot north of Paradise Valley. Schwartz rear-ended him at over 70 miles per hour, killing Naccarelli. His Chevrolet Cruze’s airbag control module allegedly showed that no braking was applied seconds before impact.
Police said they found Schwartz with a variety of pills, including Suboxone, a medication for opioid addiction, and that he had slurred and slow speech. He would later tell police officers that he had been using drugs and that he was a heroin addict. He said he was homeless when they asked him for his address, according to police. He was charged with manslaughter and has been held in jail ever since.
Now, Schwartz has decided to plead guilty to the charge. But his defense attorney and family are balking at the prosecutor’s demand that he accept a minimum prison sentence of 10.5 to 15 years. They point to a variety of “mitigating factors,” including his longstanding struggle with drug addiction and a lack of prior felony convictions or violent criminal history. They point to five “similarly situated” cases prosecuted by the same deputy county attorney, Tiffany Brady, involving fatal motor vehicle crashes in which the defendant received no more than four years, arguing that Schwartz is being treated unfairly.
“They were non-negotiable from the beginning,” said Jon Schwartz, Matthew’s father. “[Brady] is being extensively vindictive, prejudicial, and is not treating my son with an equal hand.”
Schwartz’s case and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office handling of the plea process also comes at a time when Allister Adel, the current county attorney, is running for reelection and framing herself as a reform-minded prosecutor. Adel has been criticized for punitive prosecutorial conduct, such as seeking eight years in prison for a man accused of not returning a rental car on time. Jon Schwartz said his thinks son ought to receive the type of sentence that is more aligned with her election-year rhetoric.
The five cases referenced by Schwartz’s defense attorney, Richard Gaxiola, do appear similar to Schwartz’s case. For instance, in a 2018 case, a defendant was charged with manslaughter and accepted a guilty plea with a three-year prison sentence. Similarly, in a case from last summer, a man driving drunk westbound on Camelback Road hit and killed a pedestrian; he also agreed to a three-year sentence. In 2017, a man fatally struck a bicyclist with his car; he had numerous drugs in his system at the time and garnered a four-year sentence in a plea deal.
“Five similar situated prior cases involving a fatality and motor vehicle collision, prosecuted by the same assigned county attorney, resulted in no defendant receiving more than 4 years,” Richard Gaxiola, the attorney representing Schwartz, wrote in a motion filed on October 9. “The case comparisons with Matt’s case plea resolution cannot be understated.”
In an email, Jennifer Liewer, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, defended Brady’s handling of the plea deal.
“This case is not consistent with the facts and/or issues of the five referenced cases,” she wrote. “This case does present facts where a charge of 2nd Degree murder would have had a likelihood of conviction at trial, however, we are offering the lower charge of Manslaughter with a term of 10.5-15 years.”
“We have a responsibility to protect this community and the rights of victims and we believe this plea is appropriate in the violent and tragic death of Anthony Naccarelli,” Liewer added.
According to an excerpt of a letter authored by Naccarelli’s father that was sent to the County Attorney’s Office, he was a kind individual with a strong work ethic. Starting at the age of 15, Naccarelli worked as a lifeguard in Anthem, Arizona, then moved up to pool manager. At the Blue Martini, he worked as a barback before being promoted to bartender.
“The thoughts of what my son experienced in those moments is horrifying. All because Mr. Schwartz ONCE AGAIN got behind the wheel of his car and CHOSE to drive. With 4 or 5 different types of drugs in his system. In my mind it’s no different than if he had loaded a revolver and just started shooting all around the city,” the excerpt states. “Our sweet, loving, caring, big hearted son, brother and friend is gone forever.”
Jon Schwartz detailed his son’s chronic struggle with drug addiction and homelessness, one of the “mitigating factors” cited by Gaxiola.
“Matt has had a drug problem for the last 10 years,” he said. “We have sent him in to numerous drug rehabilitation [centers].”
They argue that Matthew’s chronic addiction, which the American Psychiatric Association views as a brain disease, and the fact that he was high during the crash undermines the prosecutor’s argument that his decision to drive that fateful night was a “conscious choice.” They also point to Matthew’s participation in 12-step classes inside Maricopa County jail facilities and a letter of remorse written to the victim’s family as evidence that the proposed sentence is unwarranted.
“Matt’s lengthy and severe drug addiction overpowered his choices and actions over the past several years… Matt is a terribly sick individual whose brain cognitive functioning has been impaired and altered for years as a result,” Gaxiola’s motion states. “Albeit that intoxication or involuntary intoxication is not a legal defense to this case, the state’s position lacks a coherent understanding of the current published medical science that is well-recognized all over the world.”
Liewer said that the sentence offered by Brady in the plea deal is justified given Schwartz’s drug addiction, the number of trips to drug rehab, his 2006 misdemeanor DUI conviction, and a later citation for drug possession.
“That DUI conviction put him on notice of the dangers of impaired driving,” she wrote. “It is clear that the defendant has not, and is not, responding to rehabilitation and admittedly continues to use drugs and drive on a regular basis, and is therefore a danger to this community.”
Prosecutors seeking long prison sentences for DUI offenses aren’t entirely unheard of in Maricopa County. Adel has been criticized for her involvement in giving a man convicted of a DUI a 51-year sentence.
“Now, in the time of reform, when the county attorney is talking about reform, she’s showing a hard line by controlling everything with the plea,” Jon Schwartz said, referring to Adel’s reelection campaign rhetoric. “We don’t want Matthew on the street. We want him to get a few years to keep him off the street.”
“He’s saying, ‘I can’t believe what I’ve done to my life,'” he added. “He doesn’t even remember the accident.”