Woman charged in nightclub beating never hit victim, attorney says

Vanesa Tapia Zavala, who was arrested in the beating death of 23-year-old Kim Pham outside a Santa Ana nightclub, is facing a murder charge.

A Santa Ana woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the beating death of a 23-year-old nightclub patron who was hit and kicked during an altercation in Santa Ana's historic district.

Vanesa Zavala is being held on $1-million bail and faces a single murder charge in the death of Kim Pham, a Westminster resident who'd been coaxed into going out for the evening by friends.


Zavala's attorney said his client never hit Pham and was actually struck and knocked to the ground herself during the fight outside The Crosby.

Defense attorney Kenneth Reed said Zavala, 25, went to the popular club with her boyfriend and other friends.

During the altercation early Saturday, Reed said Zavala lost her cellphone, which police later found. Reed said he's unsure if that's the only piece of evidence police have against his client.

"Your 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. "No matter what the situation is, you're going to be devastated. No matter how you look at it, and that's how she feels."

Zavala, who was arrested Monday, is one of the five people suspected of attacking 23-year-old Kim Pham outside the nightclub. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information on the outstanding suspects.

The incident was captured on video, some of which has been reviewed by police. Detectives are asking any other witnesses who saw or recorded what happened to come forward.

Pham, a recent Chapman University graduate who aspired for a career as a talk-show host, was declared brain-dead shortly after she was admitted to the hospital and was pronounced dead Tuesday after being taken off life-support.

Police have not said what prompted the argument, but friends of Pham said the argument may have started after she accidentally stepped in front of a camera as a group of men and women posed for a photo.

Twitter: @AdolfoFlores3