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2 women ordered to stand trial in Kim Pham beating death

Prosecutors say Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito escalated a brawl outside a Santa Ana nightclub by kicking and punching the recent college graduate into unconsciousness.

February 12, 2014|By Adolfo Flores and Anh Do

Two women were ordered Tuesday to stand trial for murder in the death of a 23-year-old woman who was beaten during an altercation outside a popular Santa Ana nightspot.

The ruling followed a two-day hearing with attorneys dissecting the shaky and sometimes chaotic scene, captured on the cellphones of bystanders.

Lawyers for Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito, who are accused of killing Kim Pham, of Huntington Beach, on Jan. 18, said it was Pham who instigated the brawl by throwing the first punch, then jumping on a woman who had tumbled to the ground.

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But prosecutors said it was Zavala and Brito, two friends from Santa Ana who were out for the night with friends, who escalated the situation into a homicide by punching and then kicking Pham into unconsciousness.

Neither of the women reacted visibly to the ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris. Both have pleaded not guilty and remain in custody in lieu of $1-million bail.

The case has drawn enormous attention, in part because of initial reports that dozens of bystanders stood around, some shooting video, failing to intervene as the fight escalated. The prosecutor, though, said that more than 15 people tried to come to Pham's aid.

Friends and family have described Pham as a bubbly, high-achieving woman who recently graduated from Chapman University and aspired to be a journalist. Defense attorneys painted a darker picture, saying she had been drinking the night of the fight, was argumentative and "lit the match" that started the brawl.

"I think the tiara's off Ms. Pham," said Michael Molfetta, Brito's attorney.

In court, Molfetta said that the video images failed to point toward his client's guilt and that the accounts of witnesses were conflicting.

"What you have is a series of blows. You don't know which one caused death," the defense attorney said.

Later, outside the courtroom, Molfetta said: "At best this is a manslaughter case."

Over two days of testimony, cellphone images were shown over and over as police described the action and tried to pick out the suspects and the victim.

In one video, Pham appears to throw what police said was the first punch in the fight. Pham can also be seen straddling and hitting a woman on the ground

But on the witness stand, Santa Ana Det. Leo Rodriguez stopped the video at another point to show Brito punching and later kicking Pham.

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