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Santa Ana fatal fight: Judge finds enough evidence for murder trial

A judge ruled Tuesday there is enough evidence to try two suspects for the murder of a woman in Santa Ana in January.
February 11, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
A judge ruled Tuesday there is enough evidence to try two suspects for the murder of a woman who died from injuries sustained in a fight outside a Santa Ana nightclub in January.

Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 25, were both charged with the murder of 23-year-old Kim Pham outside The Crosby on January 18. They have both pleaded not guilty. Police are seeking a third woman described as a person of interest.

The fight was caught on cellphone video, and portions were played in court during the preliminary hearing.

"You can see both defendants, particularly Ms. Brito, punching and kicking the victim, and you can see Ms. Zavala kick the victim as well while she was down," said prosecutor Troy Pino.

Santa Ana Police Detective Leo Rodriguez testified Monday that a third woman identified as "Amelia" whose photo was shown by police as a person of interest was seen in one video on the ground fighting with Pham. Amelia is later seen fighting with some men in the street after the confrontation with Pham.

Under cross-examination, the defense asked Rodriguez why Amelia hasn't been contacted. The detective said officers have been trying to talk with her but so far have been unable to reach her.

Defense attorneys have asserted that Pham started the fight.

"It was a powder keg. That powder keg exploded. Ms. Pham's the one that lit the match," said Brito's defense attorney, Michael Molfetta.

"The bottom line is she's on the ground defenseless when these two defendants kick her in the head. And that's what killed her," said Pino.

Santa Ana Homicide Detective Patricia Navarro testified Monday that a witness identified as "Patrick N." said the fight started with a verbal altercation and then turned violent.

"He sees the female Hispanic punch at Kim approximately 10 times, then they fell to the ground," Navarro testified on Monday.

Zavala then joined in on the fight, according to the witness.

"He states that she stands there trying to get 'her hits in,'" said Navarro.

The same witness picked Zavala out of a police photo lineup, but was unable to identify Brito.

Under cross-examination, the detective admitted she pretended to be an inmate, wore a wire and talked to Zavala for about an hour after Zavala said she wanted an attorney.

"I was asked to act in an undercover capacity and contact Ms. Zavala to find out the truth about what happened," said Navarro.

"Did you know she invoked?" Navarro was asked.

"Yes," she replied.

Navarro says Zavala told her: "She hit me first. I acted in self-defense."

On Monday the court also heard from officers who responded to the scene to find Pham lying on the sidewalk.

"She had her hands up to her mouth and she was unresponsive," said Santa Ana Police Officer Gerardo Corona.

Dr. Etoi Davenport, a forensic pathologist, testified that Pham was hit in the head at least five times. Her brain showed hemorrhaging and swelling.

"Blunt force injuries of the head, so any blow to the head or if her head struck any object, it could cause this type of injury," said Davenport.

During cross-examination, the doctor testified she did not know exactly which blow to the head caused Pham's death.

The next hearing is scheduled for February 21.


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