Contrary to reports that bystanders did nothing as a 23-year-old woman was fatally beaten outside a Santa Ana nightclub, an Orange County prosecutor said that as many as 15 people tried to come to the victim's rescue.

Kim Pham died after being pummeled, knocked to the ground and then stomped during a Jan. 18 altercation outside the club.

Criticism erupted after a video of the fight surfaced,  showing some people standing nearby or recording the fight on their cellphones.

But Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Troy Pino said that about 10 to 15 people tried to break up the fight, including bystanders, security guards and Pham’s friends.

Candace Marie Brito, 27, and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, have been charged with murder in the assault, and a third woman is being sought. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.

Pham, a recent Chapman University graduate and an aspiring journalist, was declared brain-dead after the melee but was kept on life support until her organs were removed for transplant.

Coroner's officials concluded that her death was due to complications from blunt-force trauma to the head.

Santa Ana police officials said the blows were from hands and feet and that no weapons were used.

Michael Molfetta, the defense attorney for Brito, said that his investigation, including statements from independent witnesses, found that Pham threw the first punch.

The fight, he said, was preceded by an argument that was started when someone from the defendant’s group bumped into someone from Pham's group.

“Who threw the first punch is in dispute and irrelevant,” Pino said.

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adolfo.flores@latimes.com

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