Fate of two women in fatal nightclub beating goes to the jury

The fate of two women accused of fatally beating a 23-year-old newlywed outside a nightclub in Santa Ana's historic district is expected to be handed to jurors Wednesday afternoon.

Candace Brito and Vanesa Zavala are accused of kicking Kim Pham in the head after she fell to the sidewalk during a chaotic and violent brawl. Witnesses have offered conflicting testimony on how the fight unfolded and video shot on cellphones yielded no clear image of what prosecutors said were the fatal kicks to Pham’s temple.

Attorneys for the defendants, who are charged with second-degree murder, told jurors the evidence doesn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they killed Pham, a recent college graduate who was out with friends. But prosecutors said the two Santa Ana women kicked Pham in the head, with Zavala dealing the fatal blow before Pham went limp.

The fight outside the Crosby on Jan. 18 started after a friend of the defendants bumped into Pham. After a brief verbal altercation, the disagreement boiled into a fight that defense attorneys claim was ignited by Pham, who threw the first punch.


Pham was taken off life support and pronounced dead three days later.

Zavala's attorney, Kenneth Reed, said the videos don't show his client's kick landing on Pham's head and pointed to the preliminary testimony of a forensic pathologist who said she couldn't determine whether a specific blow or combination of blows killed Pham. During the trial, the pathologist said it was likely that a combination of blows killed the Westminster resident.

"You don't know the answer and you need to know the answer in order to convict my client," Reed said.

Michael Molfetta said his client, Brito, had the right to defend herself and her friend, who he said was being repeatedly punched by Pham. He also said the two videos shown in court failed to prove the prosecution's case.

"If that video was the end all, be all, we wouldn't have had the parade of liars that we had here," Molfetta said, referring to Pham's friends who testified in court.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Troy Pino said multiple witnesses said they saw Brito kick the victim in the head, adding that the cellphone footage shows her gritting her teeth right before she kicks Pham a second time.

"You can see it in her face," Pino said.

He likened Brito's kicks to loosening a jar, with Zavala dealing the final fatal kick that left Pham brain dead.

"I'm asking you to hold the defendants accountable for their conduct," Pino told jurors. "Ms. Pham has already paid for her conduct."

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