Women found guilty in fatal Santa Ana nightclub beating

Women found guilty in fatal Santa Ana nightclub beating
Vanessa Zavala and Candace Brito were convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the beating death of a woman outside an Orange County nightclub. (Joshua Sudock / Orange County Register)

Two women were convicted Thursday afternoon of kicking a 23-year-old newlywed to death during a chaotic and violent brawl outside a trendy Santa Ana nightclub.

Vanese Zavala and Candace Brito were both convicted of felony manslaughter but acquitted on far more serious second-degree murder charges.


Several jurors cried openly as the verdicts were read.

The nightclub beating case was built on eyewitness accounts and grainy cellphone videos.

But in court, the accounts of what happened outside the Crosby nightclub varied wildly and none of the footage seemed to capture what prosecutors said was the decisive moment – the defendants kicking Kim Pham in the temple.

Both Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito denied kicking Pham and said they were only trying to defend themselves and a friend as the brawl turned chaotic.

Pham was left crumpled on the sidewalk and died three days later without regaining consciousness.

The defendants – one a 25-year-old mother, the other a working professional – were accused of escalating the fight outside the club by taking turns kicking Pham in the head as she wrestled with another person on the sidewalk.

The Jan. 21 incident drew national attention, in part because of initial reports that painted a picture of indifference – bystanders milling about or shooting video on their cellphones, but never stopping to assist. Authorities later said that more than a dozen people actually tried to intervene in the fight.

City officials urged residents not to view the incident in racial terms. Santa Ana's population is heavily Latino, but the adjoining Little Saigon community has steadily sprawled into the county seat.

The narratives of the three women also heightened interest in the case.

Pham was described as a bubbly, high-achieving college graduate who liked to write poetry and longed to be a journalist. Brito and Zavala were presented as solid citizens who worked office jobs and were with friends on a rare night out.

During a preliminary hearing, Brito's attorney quickly went after the portrayal of Pham as a "patron saint," saying his client had been "vilified internationally."

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