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Beating victim mourned as second woman pleads not guilty

Hundreds of people attend the Mass for Huntington Beach resident Kim Pham as Candace Marie Brito pleads not guilty in the Jan. 18 attack.

January 29, 2014|By Adolfo Flores and Anh Do

As family and friends gathered to remember a 23-year-old woman lost to street violence, another young woman appeared in a nearby courthouse Tuesday to declare her innocence in a predawn beating outside a Santa Ana nightclub that left the recent college graduate dead.

Candace Marie Brito is the second woman charged in the beating death of Kim Pham, of Huntington Beach, who was out with friends when an altercation erupted with another group of nightclub patrons. A woman was previously charged in the case, and authorities continue to seek a third, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The case has drawn national attention, in part because the victim has been steadily portrayed as a high-achieving, compassionate woman who threw herself into causes and only ended up at the trendy downtown nightclub because she was coaxed out for the night by friends.

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"Simply put, she was at the wrong place, wrong time," Bao Trung Nguyen said during memorial services for his cousin. "I prayed that she would survive."

On Tuesday, Brito's attorney tried to temper the storyline by saying that his client was also a good, hard-working woman who had spent the night out with friends, only to be knocked to the ground during the Jan. 18 melee.

"Ms. Pham has been anointed a saint," said Michael Molfetta, Brito's attorney. In contrast, he said, his client has been "vilified internationally."

"She's a good person," Molfetta said. "If she's the one that ended up dying that night, you guys would've anointed her a saint. She's a bright young lady with a bright future ahead of her."

Brito, 27, of Santa Ana, faces one felony count of murder and is being held on $1-million bail. Vanesa Tapia Zavala, a 25-year-old Santa Ana mother, pleaded not guilty to identical charges last week and is also being held on $1-million bail.

Brito's friends and family attended the arraignment at the Santa Ana Central Jail, squeezing behind a podium when her case was called so she could see them through a video feed.

They declined to comment.

Brito is one of three women suspected of participating in the melee, which has prompted Santa Ana civic leaders to defend the city's historic downtown as a safe destination for visitors.

Molfetta said he reviewed one of the videos of the fight, recorded on cellphones by bystanders, and said it was hard to tell who was doing what.

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