Jurors hear conflicting accounts of death in Santa Ana brawl

Jurors hear conflicting accounts of death in Santa Ana brawl
Defendant Candace Brito confers with attorney Michael Molfetta during closing arguments in Santa Ana. Brito and another woman are accused of killing Kim Pham. (Christine Cotter / Pool photo)

As closing arguments ended Wednesday, jurors were left with conflicting accounts of two women accused of fatally beating a 23-year-old newlywed outside a nightclub in Santa Ana's historic district.

The prosecution painted Candace Brito and Vanesa Zavala as brutal combatants who kicked and inflicted "cheap shots" on Kim Pham's head after she tumbled to the sidewalk during the brawl. Defense attorneys argued that their clients were outnumbered and acted in self-defense, trying to protect a friend in a fight that Pham had instigated.

Brito and Zavala are accused of kicking Pham in the head during a chaotic and violent brawl. Witnesses have offered conflicting and unclear 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 head.

Attorneys for the defendants, who are charged with second-degree murder, told jurors the evidence didn'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 one of the defendants' friends, Emilia Calderon, bumped into Pham. The prosecution didn't rebut the claim that Pham had started the fight, but insisted that Brito and Zavala took it to a criminal level.

Pham was left comatose after the fight and taken off life support and pronounced dead three days later.

Zavala's attorney, Kenneth Reed, said the videos didn't show his client's kick landing on Pham's head and cited 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 told jurors.

On the witness stand, Zavala denied kicking the victim.

Michael Molfetta said his client, Brito, had the right to defend herself and her friend. He said the videos shown in court failed to prove that the defendants struck Pham and rebutted the testimony of Pham's friends who said they saw blows land.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What does it show? Not much, not very much in terms of being hit in the head," Molfetta said. "If that video was the end all be all we wouldn't have had the parade of liars that we had here."

If the jury, which was expected to continue deliberating Thursday morning, finds Brito and Zavala not guilty of second-degree murder, they could find them guilty of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Troy Pino said Brito and Zavala kicked an unsuspecting Pham in the temple as she was fighting their friend on the ground. Witnesses, he said, 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.

"Kicking a person in the head when they're on the ground, when their hands are full is never a not guilty," Pino said. "I'm asking you to hold the defendants accountable for their conduct. Ms. Pham has already paid for her conduct."

Twitter: @AdolfoFlores3