Fatal nightclub beating draws six-year prison sentences for women

Two women each sentenced to six years in prison in fatal brawl outside Santa Ana nightclub

Two women who kicked a 23-year-old newlywed to death during a chaotic, violent brawl outside a trendy Santa Ana nightclub were each sentenced Friday to six years in prison.

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

Both women tearfully apologized for their roles in the fatal beating of Kim Pham, a case that attracted widespread attention, in part because of initial reports that clubgoers watched or recorded the brawl on their smartphones rather than intervene.

"If I could change it, I would," Brito told the court and Pham's family members. "I have prayed for each of you, even prayed to Kim for her forgiveness."

Zavala, who has a 4-year-old son, said, "as a parent, I can only imagine your loss. I am deeply sorry and I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive."

The criminal case against Zavala and Brito was built mostly 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 Pham in the temple.

Zavala and 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.

After the Jan. 21 incident, 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.”

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATED

12:30 p.m.: This post has been updated with comments from Candace Brito and Vanesa Zavala, the two defendants. The post was originally published at 11:28 a.m.

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