Both Sides of the Kim Pham Murder Trial Rely Heavily on Technology—And That's Messing Up the Case

Ever since word emerged in the early morning of Jan. 18 that a brutal fight occurred outside the Crosby in downtown Santa Ana and left a Vietnamese-American woman brain dead, the saga of Kim Pham has been inextricably rooted in technology. Eyewitnesses spread the initial reports of the beating on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—status updates, photos, videos and more. When the first video snippet of the altercation surfaced, Pham's friends took to Facebook to find the people who might have killed her. The story went viral a full two days before the mainstream media caught up, and the thousands of tips and leads that Santa Ana Police Department detectives pursued afterward were fueled mostly by that initial social-media push. Much of the evidence and testimony in the case has been digital, with the arguments of both sides predicated on nearly half a dozen videos of various graininess.

Reed has yet to successfully play audio over the courtroom's sound system, instead relying on tinny Macbook Pro speakers that he decidedly points away from the jury.

But while the deluge of digital evidence seems as though it would help the Orange County district attorney's office, which charged Candace Brito and Vanesa Zavala with Pham's murder, it's actually doing the opposite. The inability of the prosecution and defense to adequately use the technology in Judge Thomas Goethals' courtroom has led to jarring stoppages in questioning, confusing situations for jurors and witnesses, and momentary disappearances of clear lines of questioning on both sides.

These pauses and glitches are embarrassing defense attorney Kenneth Reed—but it's downright harming the DA's case. The People's technology issues surfaced during opening statements. Senior Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino began strong, pinpointing each argument he was going to make, as well as the evidence and witnesses he was going to use to support it.

Not always worth 1,000 words
Mark Rightmire/OC Register
Not always worth 1,000 words

"We have seven witnesses who see kicks to [the] head," Pino said, making sure to gesture with his hands at the jury on each point. "Three are friends of Kim Pham, four are independent. Two witnesses have partial video."

But when it came time to show the jurors a video of the altercation, his punctuated delivery disappeared. He had to close his PowerPoint presentation, a garish mishmash of bad fonts and colors, to play a video. The DVD drive of his computer lagged, leading to disconcerted looks among jurors and the audience. And when he was able to make the video work, the audio wouldn't play. Pino eventually waited until later that day to try again. By the time he got the sound working with the video so the jury could hear the cacophony of dozens of people yelling, screaming and crying, the damage to Pino's presentation skills were singed. Later, as Pino loaded a video of Pham's friends pushing away Brito and Zavala, he attempted to fill the empty time with idle, desperate talk. "I hope we'll have audio," he said, openly pining for someone to appear and connect the correct wires.

Then came Pino's problem of too much audio. During day two of the trial, Pino successfully showed a video as he questioned his witness. Suddenly, white noise from the sound system's live wires buzzed in the background, making it difficult to hear anything the witness was saying. Pino gallantly attempted to continue with his questioning, as members of the public and several jurors looked around in confusion. A bailiff soon unplugged an audio cable so the buzzing would stop.

The defense has also weathered tech hiccups. On day three, as Reed (who's representing Zavala) cross-examined another of Pham's friends, he plugged his laptop into the court's AV system. After a few seconds, his screen appeared on both TVs and the projection screen. "I have no clue how I made that happen," he said. He has yet to successfully play audio over the courtroom's sound system, instead relying on tinny Macbook Pro speakers that he decidedly points away from the jury. And then there's his questioning. When video evidence is played on two LCD televisions and one large projector screen, Reed has most of his cross-examined witnesses leave the stand so they could position themselves 2 feet from where the videos are shown. Reed's quick-talking, witness-confusing style of cross-examination isn't as effective when he has to wait for a person to get up, walk to a screen, watch a 4-second video clip, return to the witness box, and then speak into a microphone.

Worse still are Reed's efforts to have witnesses identify individuals in stills pulled from videos in evidence. None of the photos his office printed displayed clearly on the courtroom's overhead projector, thanks to the glare produced by the semi-glossy paper Reed's office chose. Instead of filling in names for the jury to see, Reed has needed to approach witnesses multiple times so they can fill in the identification themselves.

Reed's slip-ups would kill his case if he were alone, but it has allowed Michael Molfetta, Brito's defense attorney, to look competent by comparison. The high-priced defense lawyer is known for his charisma and possesses a courtroom style akin to Sam Waterson's character in Law and Order. While much of Pino's and Reed's questioning is awkwardly timed around video clips, Molfetta is breezier. In nearly 20 hours, Molfetta has used a video clip during his cross-examination just once: during the afternoon of the third day. While addressing Jacqueline Dinh, a young Vietnamese woman who can be seen in videos trying to push attackers away from Pham, Molfetta played a video thanks to—Molfetta's words—Reed, "my IT department."

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27 comments
Nicole Valles
Nicole Valles

Why didn't they hire someone to help with the technology? Also, those women should go to jail because they killed that woman whether she instigated the fight or not.

Kim Guerra
Kim Guerra

Those girls should do hard time . That poor girl was killed

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

the racist garbage who killed her are being given a break by the leftist bullies who wouldnt 


hesitate for a second if it was white people harming non whites, to call it a hate crime


Rudy P Magaña
Rudy P Magaña

Meh! They will get what they deserve. If either group been smart enough to just walk away Kim wouldn't have lost her life and the other ladies wouldn't be incarcerated. What a crappy place to be in for over a stupid fight.

Liz B
Liz B

The girl was beaten to death. Any jury shud fund these people guilty. Shouldn't be that tough of a decision

toddsputnik1
toddsputnik1

I say that the jury goes into the room, counts to five, then reaches a verdict for acquittal.  The OC prosecutors are buffoons.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

This case came to trial very quickly.  Sounds like both sides needed more time.

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dubyadawg
dubyadawg topcommenter

Ok, but she is DEAD!

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 

The fight started because Pham accidentally walked through a photo that was being taken...what the hell does that have to do with race? 


"Leftist bullies"? Really? The only bullies I see here are the two women on trial...

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@fishwithoutbicycle @sweetliberty17761776


you're smarter than that


think about it


they attacked her b/c she walked through a photo


could that initself provoke an attack 


it could, but not in a rational world/sense


( go read what happened to some famous dj anthony last week or so in ny…and he got fired from sirius)



the level of anger to attack someone b/c they walked through a photo lies deeper


but we have to start , in this case, with the surface


and the easiest , especially b/c these are low people (classless), is race


they saw someone "insult" them and adding to that insult


was an attractive female who wasnt "even" one who looked like them


I will stand by my post

CharlesLam
CharlesLam

@fishwithoutbicycle @sweetliberty17761776 So, what people agree happened that night is actually the Zavala, Brito and her friends walked through Pham's and her friends group as Pham's group was looking at a picture they had just taken.

Verbal argument that led to fight. Once I find some extra time, I'll probably publish the order of event according to the witnesses.

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@CharlesLam 

Thank you for clarifying that, Charles. But I'm sure you'll agree that no matter who walked through who's photo it's ridiculous that a spat about an accidental photobombing escalated so quickly into such a violent brawl in which a person ended up being killed. For a damn photo. :-(

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@fishwithoutbicycle @CharlesLam I do think it matters who started the fight, regardless of how dumb the reason may have been.  If it was Pham or her friends di then I don't think the defendants will be convicted of second degree murder.  Maybe manslaughter?  No one who starts a fight deserves to die but you are partially culpable for the consequences.  All of the people involved seemed to be hotheads, some just a little more violent.  

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@949girl 

You make a lot of sense. Perhaps manslaughter is a more appropriate charge. But even if Pham started the confrontation it was never really a fair fight if the people she was scrapping with were so much bigger than her. Beating up on someone much smaller than you is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. I think those women knew full well that they could do far more damage to Pham than she could ever do to them. That's why they should go to jail.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@fishwithoutbicycle @949girl I don't feel badly for the defendants.  I believe they should be in jail.  But I'm not sure for how long considering there are suspects still at large and it's hard to say how much involvment each defendant had.  I don't think the intent was for anyone to kill Pham but they acted like a bunch of crazy, ignorant fools by kicking a petite girl when she was down on the ground who was clearly outnumbered.  But had Pham not instigated the fight she would still be alive.  I am of the opinion that you don't start fights with people if you aren't prepared for the potential consequences.  Fighting is just dumb and sometimes people just take it too far. I think the defendants are being over-charged by I don't feel bad for them at the same time.  I don't want to live in the same general community with anyone who thinks it's acceptable to kick anyone in the head while they are down on the ground. 

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

@949girl @fishwithoutbicycle 

I agree. Don't start shit. I really hate fighting and think people who think it's better to work things out with their fists than with their words are idiots. Poor decisions were made all around. The life of one person was taken and the lives of two others have been ruined because none of them could behave like adults. It makes me sad.

 
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