Tag Archives: Annie Kim Pham

Trial to begin May 5 in Santa Ana nightclub beating death

SANTA ANA – A judge declined Tuesday to dismiss murder charges against two women accused in a beating death outside a Santa Ana nightclub, moving the case toward a May 5 trial.

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Defense attorneys for Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito asked the judge to throw the case out because Santa Ana police delayed turning over evidence that was favorable to the defense.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said he believed police had some evidence in late January that they failed to turn over until after a preliminary hearing in February.

But Goethals said his review of the additional evidence shows it would not have changed the outcome of that hearing, at which a different judge ruled there was probable cause to send the case to trial.

Brito, 27, and Zavala, 25, both of Santa Ana, are charged with killing Annie Kim Pham, 23, who died after a Jan. 18 fight outside The Crosby, a Santa Ana restaurant and bar. Witnesses have said the fight began after Pham and another woman bumped into each other.

Brito’s lawyer, Michael Molfetta, and Zavala’s lawyer, Kenneth Reed, said Tuesday’s ruling was expected because there’s a very low standard of proof at a preliminary hearing, making it hard to overturn the result.

At trial, the standard of proof is much higher: Prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial in May is expected to last two or three weeks.

Defense lawyers have argued that Pham, who lived in Huntington Beach, threw the first punch and their clients acted in self-defense. But prosecutors have said Brito and Zavala kicked Pham in the head while she was down, making them guilty of murder even if Pham was the initial aggressor.

Among the evidence the defense said police didn’t turn over before the preliminary hearing was a statement from Alfonso Magana, the boyfriend of a woman in Brito and Zavala’s group that night. Magana told police he was attacked by Asian gang members in Pham’s group and that Pham attacked a friend of Brito and Zavala.

Deputy District Attorney Mark Sacks, who argued in court the evidence was not “material,” said afterward the judge made the correct ruling. His colleague, Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino, said in a court filing that he was not aware of the additional evidence until police gave it to him, at which time he turned it over to the defense.

Goethals said there was technically not a constitutional violation because the evidence was not material. But he reminded prosecutors that evidence should be turned over as soon as they or police have it.

Santa Ana police also didn’t tell the defense for weeks that a detective had posed as an inmate to get statements from Zavala. The defense lawyers said they know that only because Zavala recognized Detective Patricia Navarro in court during February’s preliminary hearing and tapped her lawyer on the shoulder.

Defense lawyers also said Detective Leo Rodriguez, the lead investigator, lied on the stand when he said Zavala hadn’t claimed self-defense.

“If you testify to something that’s not the truth, you’re lying,” Reed said. “If you testify to half the truth, you’re half-lying.”

Goethals said the judge who found probable cause to send the case to trial, Thomas Borris, clearly had been put on notice of self-defense claims.

Goethals pointed to four pieces of evidence Borris heard about: statements from two witnesses that Pham was an aggressor, videotapes showing parts of the fight and a stipulation that Zavala told Navarro, “She hit me first; I acted in self-defense.”

The judge said he had watched the same videos, including cellphone footage, at least five times and found it hard to determine what was happening at many points.

“It is a chaotic situation involving events that might be described as something of a melee,” Goethals said.

In a few weeks, a jury will likely have to watch the same footage before determining whether Brito and Zavala are innocent or guilty.



If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.


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Fatal club beating: 2nd suspect ID’d, charged with murder

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Annie Kim Pham, 23, was fatally injured in a fight outside The Crosby in downtown Santa Ana on Jan. 18.

Candace Marie Brito, 27, is scheduled to be arraigned at 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

Brito’s arrest was announced Friday by Santa Ana police, who did not identify her citing the ongoing investigation.

EARLIER: SANTA ANA – A second suspect arrested in connection with the beating death of a woman outside a popular Santa Ana nightclub is “petrified and confused,” her attorney said Monday.

“She didn’t do a thing wrong,” criminal defense lawyer Michael Molfetta said of the 27-year-old Santa Ana woman, whose identity has not yet been released by police and who has not been charged.

Police said they believe the second suspect and another woman, as well as Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, of Santa Ana, who was arrested last week, made “physical contact” with Annie Kim Pham, 23, outside The Crosby restaurant and bar in downtown Santa Ana after some kind of argument escalated into a fight in the predawn hours of Jan. 18.

Sgt. Javier Esparza of the Santa Ana Police Department said Monday that investigators continue to interview witnesses and are seeking to question a third woman described as a “person of interest.” They also are looking for two men who are sought for questioning but not considered suspects. The men may have been involved in a separate altercation outside The Crosby.

Molfetta declined to name his client. But he did describe her as having no prior trouble with the law and, like Pham, who was recently married and studied psychology at Chapman University and aspired to become a writer, she was working regularly.

The woman, held since Friday on suspicion of murder, must be arraigned or set free by Tuesday.

Pham was taken off life support on Jan. 21. An autopsy concluded that she died of complications from blunt-force trauma to her head.


A funeral Mass for Pham, who recently moved to Huntington Beach from her family’s home in Westminster, will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Westminster.

“We welcome all to attend Kim’s funeral to pray and share her love with us,” Pham’s family posted on the Facebook page “Justice for Kim Pham,” which on late Monday had more than 27,000 followers.

The funeral will come three days before Pham would have celebrated her first wedding anniversary. She and Giang Ngokhanh, 23, were married on his birthday, Jan. 31, according to Orange County marriage certificate records.

The details of what happened leading up to Pham’s death remain unclear. Officials have not determined a motive for the fight that played out in front of more than 50 people lined up to get into The Crosby.

Molfetta said again Monday what he has said previously, that Pham threw the first punch after someone in Zavala’s group inadvertently bumped into Pham.

“She (herself) got knocked down with a bunch of people coming out,” he said of his client. “She was not involved in any shape or form in any altercation with anybody.”

Police have not yet offered an alternate version of the incident. Detectives are reviewing at least three different videos of the fight, one of which shows a security guard trying to separate Pham and the women believed to have beaten her.

Zavala pleaded not guilty to murder last week and is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Orange County Jail. Her attorney, Ken Reed, has said Zavala is innocent.

Molfetta said his client was among friends of Zavala who were at the restaurant to celebrate a birthday.

Molfetta said he expects his client to be arraigned Tuesday, but does not know the specific charge.

She has no criminal record, he said, and “she’s the type of person who’s been working on a 401 (k) since she was 18.”

Molfetta added that she was born in another state but raised in Irvine and graduated from Woodbridge High School. She is single, her mother lives in the area and her father passed away several years ago. Molfetta said his client currently works in an office and attends Santa Ana College.

She hopes to become a paralegal.


If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.


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