Person of interest

The Santa Ana Police Dept. released a photograph of a "person of interest" in connection with the beating death of Kim Pham. (Santa Ana Police Dept. / January 24, 2014)

Santa Ana police have arrested a second woman in connection with the beating death of a recent college graduate who was hit and kicked outside a downtown nightclub.

Police also said that a third woman was being sought in connection with the incident.

Kim Pham was beaten as she waited in line with friends early Saturday outside the Crosby, a downtown Santa Ana restaurant and nightclub. She was removed from life support three days later and pronounced dead, a death the coroner’s office concluded was due to complications from blunt force trauma to the head.

The incident has drawn national media attention and spurred city leaders  to take a renewed look at safety in Santa Ana’s historic district, which has increasingly become an entertainment destination with its restaurants and nightspots.

A 25-year-old Santa Ana woman has already been charged with first-degree murder in the case and is being held on $1 million bail.

Police said Friday that they had arrested a 27-year-old woman and were searching for a third woman. Earlier, police had said they were seeking two men and two women.

Friends and family members portrayed Pham as the victim, saying she may have drawn the anger of another group at the nightclub by inadvertently stepping in front of a camera as the group posed for a photo.

But an attorney for Vanessa Tapia Zavala, the first woman arrested, said his client was a victim too and was knocked to the ground during the melee, losing her cellphone in the confusion. Kenneth Reed said that when officers later recovered Zavala’s phone, they may have assumed she was a suspect.

“You day is fine, your life is fine. You have a 5-year-old son, you go out one night on a Friday night with your boyfriend. Then your life is turned upside down and you find out someone is killed,” Reed said.

An attorney for another one of the suspects said it was Pham who threw the first punch in what deteriorated into a violent altercation on the sidewalk outside the club.

Defense attorney Michael Molfetta, who said his client has not been arrested, said Zavala has become the scapegoat in the case.

“Nationally, Ms. Zavala has been vilified and the poor lady that died has basically become a saint,” Molfetta said. “I’m sure she was a lovely woman and had a great future ahead of her, but Ms. Zavala is a good woman too.”

Pham was a recent Chapman University graduate who has been described by friends and acquaintances as a compassionate and gentle woman who championed causes such as breast cancer awareness and helped raise funds following the devastating tsunami in Japan.

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