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Women convicted in fatal nightclub brawl face up to 11 years in prison

Women convicted in fatal nightclub beating in Santa Ana face up to 11 years in prison

Two women convicted in the beating death of a 23-year-old newlywed outside a Santa Ana nightclub each face up to 11 years in prison.

Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito were convicted Thursday of voluntary manslaughter but acquitted on a far more serious murder charge.

One juror said the panel spent more time debating whether the two were guilty of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter than it did on the murder charge.

"It's the right verdict," said Michael Molfetta, Brito’s attorney. "I told my client 'You don't know this, but you just won. When you get out, and you will get out, you will realize you could have spent the rest of your life in jail.”

The prosecutors had told jurors that Zavala and Brito both kicked Kim Pham in the head after she tumbled to the sidewalk as she wrestled with another woman outside the Crosby nightclub.

But the women denied kicking Pham, saying they only tried to defend themselves and a friend as the brawl intensified.

Both women bowed their heads as the verdict was read, fighting tears. Several jurors cried openly.

The victim’s father, Dung Pham, said he thought the verdict was fair, but took no joy in it.

"As for me, I died the day my daughter died,” he said. “Still, I see the defendants cry and I feel sadness for them. There is no winner."

A juror, a Marine veteran from Orange who declined to give his name, said the jury quickly found flaws in the argument for a murder conviction. He said he had held out for involuntary manslaughter.

He said he switched positions after reading a transcript of the women’s testimony in which they conceded that they knew kicking someone in the head could cause great bodily harm.

“I felt like they incriminated themselves with that question,” he said.

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.”

The women will be sentenced Sept. 12.

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