Tag Archives: Santa Ana

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.



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Man arrested after police chase ends in crash, splash

SANTA ANA – A 33-year-old man was arrested Sunday morning following a police pursuit in Santa Ana that damaged a fire hydrant and led into a private backyard, police said.

Santa Ana police said they responded to a call of shots being fired in the 1700 block of West Willits Street about 3:40 a.m. and noticed a suspicious vehicle. When they attempted a traffic stop, the driver of the black Mazda fled, according to authorities.

Police say that, while officers were in pursuit, three passengers bailed out of the car. Shortly after, the driver lost control and hit a fire hydrant in the 500 block of South Pacific Avenue then continued on foot, police said.

The man reportedly led officers into a backyard, where he fell into a swimming pool and then was captured a block away.

The driver was charged with misdemeanor evading, but police are investigating possible connection with the shooting.

Police are still looking for the three men who bailed out of the car.


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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.


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One arrested after stabbing in Santa Ana

SANTA ANA – One man was stabbed and another arrested early Sunday at a house party in Santa Ana.

When paramedics contacted the 21-year-old victim at about 12:15 a.m., he refused advice to go to the hospital to be treated for stab wounds to his upper torso, Santa Ana Police Sgt. Jason Viramontes said.

The victim also didn’t want to help police identify his attacker, Viramontes said, but witnesses at the party in the 1700 block of West Lingan Lane, near South Bristol Street and West McFadden Drive, told police who it was. About 20 people had been fighting at the party when police arrived.

Officers arrested the suspect after he returned to the party shortly after the stabbing, Viramontes said. His name has not yet been released.



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Santa Ana nightclub beating: Mourning, questions after woman’s death

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Tuesday morning, Armando Sorria, 47, left, and Autumn Martinez, 32, tidy up the sidewalk memorial for beating victim Kim (Annie) Pham, 23, rearranging the hundreds of flowers and candles left. Pham is being kept on life support, her family said, because it was her wish to be an organ donor. Sorria frequents the area and said his sadness was redirected into helping with the memorial. Martinez, who studies criminal justice at nearby Everest College, said of Pham, “She’s just as young as me. It’s really sad. I just want to show my respect and I’m saying a prayer for her.”

SANTA ANA – The victim was waiting in line to get into a popular nightspot that attracts people who crave old-school hip-hop and $15 hamburgers, where the floor is cleared late at night so customers can dance.

Far from a seedy dive bar, The Crosby, at Fourth Street and Broadway, is an anchor of the city’s growing downtown night scene – what one local business owner and resident calls “a place for people to love and hang out.”

Now, The Crosby, operating since 2008 in an area not known recently for a high crime rate, is linked to the savage beating of a young woman whose assault early Saturday morning – in front of dozens of people lined up outside the venue – is being pieced together by Santa Ana police.

Kim “Annie” Pham, 23, of Westminster was declared dead Tuesday at 12:36 p.m., according to the Santa Ana Police Department. She had been on life support, in the hope that her organs could be donated, according to a family statement.

A woman believed to be in her 20s has been arrested in connection with the incident. Her name has not been released by police, who are searching for two other women and two men who they believe kicked and punched the 5-foot-1, 115-pound Pham in the head and body.

Police also hope to find more cellphone video and surveillance footage from area businesses.

A video of the incident posted online shows people wrestling and kicking a figure on the ground as a small crowd looks on. One person crouches nearby to get cellphone video, and a security guard wades into the melee, apparently trying to intervene. Police are hoping other video will show events, such as an argument, that might have led to the incident, said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

Bertagna said detectives are hoping people who were with the female suspect will tell their side of the story. Fourteen Santa Ana police officers responded to the scene before they called in detectives to investigate.


People who knew Pham, a 2008 graduate of Marina High School in Huntington Beach who studied psychology at Chapman University, describe a vivacious woman who loved to write and who dabbled in modeling and acting.

On her Facebook page, Pham described herself as “analytical,” “truthful” and “big-hearted.”

She talks about her love of her family and friends and how she doesn’t try to impress anyone but herself and her “main squeeze – my pops.”

Carol Brodbeck, a psychology professor at Chapman, where Pham also worked for student-run Panthervision TV, described her as well-liked.

“She wrote with passion and wisdom beyond her years,” Brodbeck said. “Annie … will be missed dearly by the Chapman community.”

Ed Dana, who has been teaching psychology at Chapman for more than 20 years, said he taught Pham in four classes and considers her a friend.

Dana was Pham’s mentor in a second semester senior project she did about the mental and emotional benefits of gardening. He said the project was unique because Pham focused on helping people, while students often focus on mental disorders.

Among Pham’s published writings is an essay about her mother, Theresa Vinh Huynh, who died of breast cancer when Pham was 5. Pham was active in breast cancer advocacy.


Pham was out Friday night with two male friends and a female friend, according to Jerry Phan, 30, of Fountain Valley, who said he’s known Pham since 2006.

Phan said he talked with the two men who were with her, and they told him that Pham’s attackers shouted “Get her! Get her!” during the incident.

Phan went to the hospital when he found out what happened but wasn’t allowed to see Pham. But, he added, a friend was allowed in and he briefly got to hold her hand while she was unconscious.

Jim Kendrick, who owns a Rags News Stand next door to The Crosby, said that when he left the area around 11:30 p.m., the crowd of about 50 waiting in line seemed peaceful.

“Everyone was in a good mood,” Kendrick said.

But authorities received a call seeking assistance at the area at 12:23 a.m., and Santa Ana police say they arrived within four minutes.

Gabriel Garcia, 27, of Santa Ana, who on Tuesday visited a growing collection of flowers and cards placed near the spot where Pham was beaten, happened to walk past the area sometime after 12:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

He saw an apparently unconscious woman in a fetal position on the sidewalk.

“People were taking pictures of her from behind the (police) tape,” Garcia said.


In a bio posted on, an online talent agency, Pham wrote that she had a passion for “acting and making (a) role come alive” and “reads scripts well and transforms easily into roles.”

In her bio, she described herself as outgoing, enthusiastic and fluent in English, Vietnamese and French.

Cameron Wohlschlaeger graduated the same year as Pham from Chapman University and worked as her supervisor at Panthervision TV. He said Pham started out as a meek television personality but blossomed into a charismatic on-air persona.

“At the time she was nervous about being an on-camera person, having been a writer with little experience,” Wohlschlaeger said. “She turned out to be a great host with a fantastic camera presence. She was great to work with, couldn’t be a sweeter person to everyone on the production.”

Dani Gomez, 22, of Brea said she had known Pham for a little over two years since they co-hosted “Table Talk,” a Panthervision show.

“It was obvious that she genuinely cared about all the topics. She also was great to joke around with,” Gomez said. “We also got to talk a lot off-camera, and she was one of the sincerest people I’ve ever met. We would talk about school and basic stuff, but we also talked about our bigger aspirations.”

Dana, the Chapman instructor, said Pham recently moved out of her family home and in with roommates. He said he met with her last week about her future endeavors. Dana said while her degree was in psychology, because it’s a subject she found interesting, her real passion was in writing.

“I took on a mentor role. I tried to help her find her way to the best of my abilities.”

Dana found out about the beating through an email sent to him by Pham’s friends.

“Whoever did this,” Dana said, “is a different type of human being than you or I.”

Staff writers Salvador Hernandez, Alyssa Duranty, Scott Schwebke and Doug Irving contributed to this story.



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Arrest made in attack on woman outside Santa Ana club

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A memorial for Kim (Annie) Pham, 23, drew a crowd to friends to the corner in Santa Ana where she beaten unconscious on the sidewalk outside a crowded Santa Ana nightspot.

A young writer who graduated last year from Chapman University was being kept on life support Monday, two days after she was beaten unconscious on the sidewalk outside a crowded Santa Ana nightspot.

Kim (Annie) Pham, 23, was being kept alive “because her wishes had always been to help others by being an organ donor,” her family said in a short statement. “We are still fighting for Kim. Stay strong.”

Police arrested one woman in connection with the weekend assault, and were searching for two other women and two men who they believe kicked and punched Pham in the head and body. They declined to identify the suspect, except to say she was in her 20s, from Santa Ana and arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

Pham had been standing in line with friends early Saturday outside of The Crosby, a restaurant and bar that has become an anchor of Santa Ana’s growing downtown night scene. Cpl. Anthony Bertagna of the Santa Ana Police Department said some kind of argument broke out in the line – he didn’t know over what – and it escalated until Pham was beaten unconscious.

Pham graduated from Chapman University last year with a degree in psychology, according to her aunt, Nga Doan. In an online profile, Pham said she worked in her spare time to raise awareness and funds for the fight against breast cancer.

She was also a writer, with an essay – titled “Men Don’t Talk About Their Feelings” – published in a 2011 anthology, “Pho for Life: A Melting Pot of Thoughts.”

The story was about her family and “the warmth of love,” she said in an interview for the book’s release.

“When you start to really recognize everybody around you and that the world is bigger than you, you start to see that there’s a lot of room for love in your life,” she said. “Just letting your walls down helps you see that.”

It was a somber gathering Monday evening in downtown Santa Ana as more than 100 of Pham’s family and friends lit candles and placed flowers at a memorial.

There was no protesting, no outward display of anger – just a silent, tearful crowd who showed up to honor Pham, who was described as a “lovable person.”

Most of the people who gathered for the vigil declined to comment.

The Crosby was closed.

Police were reviewing surveillance videos from businesses in the area that captured the assault on Pham, as well as several cellphone videos, Bertagna said. Witnesses have also volunteered to come in and talk to detectives, he said.

One video clip posted online appears to show people wrestling and kicking a figure on the ground as a small crowd watches and one person crouches to get a cellphone video. A security guard wades into the melee, apparently in an attempt to intervene.

A man who posted that video, but asked not to be named, said Pham was a friend. He said she seemed fine when he saw her outside of The Crosby about 30 minutes before the attack. He was inside the club when the assault happened shortly before 12:30 a.m. on Saturday.

He said a friend shot the video and told him Pham sustained several blows to the head.

A downtown business group offered a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible.

The Crosby, a foodie favorite that transforms into a music venue at night, is one of several bars and restaurants that have opened within a few blocks of downtown Santa Ana in the past several years. The night scene caters to young professionals and draws weekend crowds from throughout Orange County.

On Friday night, the crowd outside The Crosby stretched down the block as a popular group of DJs played inside. James Kendrick, who owns Rags News Stand next door, estimated that 50 people were in line when he closed up shop around 11:15 p.m.

He credits The Crosby with helping to put downtown Santa Ana on the map, and said there was no sign of trouble when he left, about an hour before the beating. On Monday, he was still shaking his head at the thought that people stood by and didn’t help the woman on the ground.

“I don’t know how people can just stand around,” he said. “All these guys standing in line, and they can’t help?”

The Crosby’s management team released a statement through the downtown business group, Downtown Inc., saying that it provides its own internal and external security and has never had an incident like this. It opened in 2008.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family and friends at this time,” the statement said.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who represents the downtown district, said the assault has renewed her interest in posting surveillance cameras in the area. That idea first emerged in 2010, after an Irvine man was shot to death in a nearby parking garage during a robbery.

Afterward, the downtown business association went so far as to hire security escorts for visitors. But Martinez said such major crimes are rare in the downtown, and Bertagna described it as a “safe neighborhood.”

He said he did not have crime numbers for the downtown area on Monday because it was a holiday and the department’s data crunchers were off. But he said the weekend assault was “an isolated incident.”

A memorial of votive candles and flower bouquets marked the scene of the beating on Monday. Someone had taped up posters pleading for information with pictures of Pham. “A life cut so short,” one said.



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Police arrest juvenile in Santa Ana shooting

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A Santa Ana Crime Scene investigator takes measurements after a 17-year-old male was fatally shot in the 1900 block of South Evergreen Street around 3:45 p.m. Friday in Santa Ana.

SANTA ANA – Police arrested a juvenile Saturday in connection to Friday’s suspected gang-related shooting that left a teenager dead.

Officers responding to reports of someone being shot in the 1900 block of South Cedar Street about 3:45 p.m. Friday found a 17-year-old who had been struck in his upper torso, Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.

Investigators believe the boy was struck once from multiple gunshots fired from about 40 yards away. It wasn’t immediately clear what precipitated the shooting.

The boy was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he was pronounced dead. Authorities are not releasing the teen’s name until family is notified.

Authorities detained two juvenile boys believed to be connected to the shooting Friday, who were released. Investigators obtained new information that led them to the arrest of a different juvenile, who was booked Saturday on suspicion of murder.

Police received reports Friday that two young males were seen running from the area after the shooting, one of whom was reportedly holding a semiautomatic handgun, Bertagna said. The male with the gun was reportedly wearing black jeans, a green, hooded sweat shirt and a black bandanna, Bertagna added, while the other male was wearing a light shirt and blue jeans.

Authorities are asking anyone with information to contact Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS.



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