Kim Pham beating death: 2 women sentenced to 6 years each in prison

ByGreg Lee and staff KABC logo
Saturday, November 15, 2014
2 women sentenced in Kim Pham beating death
Two women were sentenced to six years each in prison for the fatal beating of 23-year-old Kim Pham outside a Santa Ana nightclub.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Two women were each sentenced Friday to six years in state prison for the fatal beating of 23-year-old Kim Pham outside a Santa Ana nightclub.

Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 26, both cried as Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals imposed the punishment. The judge, who also ordered them to pay $5,000 each in fines and a combined $3,500 in funeral costs, chastised them for not walking away.

"Why didn't you two walk away? You're not gang members. You're not fighters. You had been essentially law-abiding, nice young women," Goethals said, raising his voice. "And yet ... you were all in the fight up to your elbows. If any of you had just swallowed your pride and walked away none of us would be sitting here."

Prosecutors alleged that Pham and her friends were taking a photo outside the bar and club formerly known as The Crosby on Jan. 19 when a woman identified as Emelia, an acquaintance of the defendants, bumped into Pham, sparking a verbal fight.

They say Zavala and Brito joined in on the fight, kicking Pham in the head while she was on the ground. Parts of the deadly attack were captured on grainy cellphone video and shown in court. The third woman was not charged in the case.

Kim Pham is seen in an undated file photo.

Brito's attorney, Michael Molfetta, told jurors Pham threw the first punch and that Brito and Zavala were only acting in self-defense in a fight that quickly grew into a melee.

"I'm not happy with the sentence, because I got to know Candice and I know what she's all about, but I understand the sentence," he said.

Pham sustained brain damage and died two days after the fight when she was taken off life support. An autopsy showed the cause of death was complications from a blunt force injury to the head, but noted it was impossible to determine if one blow or a combination blows killed Pham.

Brito and Zavala were convicted in July of voluntary manslaughter and assault. Before the sentencing, Pham's family pleaded with the judge to hand out the maximum sentence, which was 11 years in prison.

The defendants also addressed the court, tearfully apologizing and saying they will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.

"I will live with this for the rest of my life. I know that you will never forget this, but I hope someday you can forgive," Brito said shortly before the sentence was read.

Zavala, who has a 4-year-old son, said as a parent herself she can't imagine Pham's father's pain.

Pham's father says there's no way to know why his daughter didn't walk away, but it doesn't change that she's gone.

"Most importantly, my daughter cannot come back to life," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.