Kim Pham Murder Update: Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala Back in Court Tuesday

See Update No. 4 on Page 3 about the preliminary hearing Tuesday for Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, and the third woman being identified. Update Nos. 1-3 are on Brito being I.D.'d and pleading not guilty to murder, Kim Pham's father expressing his grief and witnesses refusing to come forward.

ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 24, 1:43 P.M.: A 27-year-old Santa Ana woman is the second person arrested for suspected homicide in the brutal beating death of Annie Hung "Kim" Pham outside the Crosby nightclub, city and police officials disclosed at a just-concluded press conference that seemed dedicated as much to updating the public on the case as it did to trying to bring customers back to downtown businesses.

"The downtown area is a very vibrant area," Police Chief Carlos Rojas said near the end of his update. "We have very little issues there with our police department. . . . It is not one of our problem areas."

See also: Rally for Kim Pham Friday in Santa Ana

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"I visited downtown since the event," Mayor Miguel Pulido commented a few moments later. "I encourage the general public to keep doing so. I encourage everyone else to do so."

Pulido claimed the city is working with downtown businesses to add more surveillance cameras and security guards to the so-called Artists Village. But at the same time, the mayor echoed Rojas in maintaining the area is already "safe," that Pham's killing early Saturday morning was "an isolated incident" and that her death "was not part of a massive crime wave or anything of that nature."

See also: $20,000 In Reward Money Now Offered for Info Leading to the Capture of Kim Pham's Killers

The mayor said the city is working closely with the Vietnamese community, stressing that "we see this as an assault of one of our own. We don't see it as a hate crime."

Pulido called it a "very tragic fight that occurred," adding he and the city's thoughts and prayers are with the 23-year-old Westminster victim's family.

Rojas had earlier indicated the identity of the second woman arrested, as of this morning, for Pham's murder was being withheld due to the ongoing investigation, which has so far concluded three--not five, as originally reported--people were involved in the beating death. The county coroner this week concluded Pham died of blunt force trauma to the head.

"This is still an active investigation," Rojas said. "We need assistance."

See also: Here's a Fundraising Website If You're Interested in Donating to Kim Pham's Family

All three suspects are females, including the two now in custody who include previously identified 25-year-old Vanesa Tapia Zavala of Santa Ana. A photo of the unidentified third woman, who is a considered a "person of interest" in the case, according to Rojas, was passed out at the press conference:

Person of interest in Kim Pham's beating death
Person of interest in Kim Pham's beating death
Photo by Charles Lam/OC Weekly

Two males who were with the three women have been identified--and they have lawyered up, according to Rojas, who said his investigators want to talk to the men and their attorneys just so they can get a better idea of what happened.

"We do not have enough information to determine how that altercation started or who said what," Rojas said.

Several videos and numerous tips have been forwarded to detectives, who ask for more by calling 714.245.8390 or contacting Orange County Crime Stoppers, even anonymously, at 1.855.TIP.OCCS.

See also: Was Kim Pham Beat to Death for Accidentally Photobombing Attackers?

Charles Lam contributed to this report.
 
UPDATE NO. 1, JAN. 27, 1:33 P.M.: Ann Do of the Los Angeles Times spoke with Dung Pham, the father of 23-year-old Kim, who was beaten to death outside the Crosby in Santa Ana Jan. 18.

The interview disclosed the young woman was married, that she recently moved to Huntington Beach and got a job at Nordstrom, and that her husband studies business at UCLA and would come home on weekends.

But most of Do's piece concerned a 60-year-old father's loss. He had raised Kim Pham alone since she was 5, when her mother died of breast cancer.

"All I can do is practice to forget," Dung Pham reportedly said. "Forget the memories. Forget the big moments. Forget everything. Only then would we suffer less."

He feared the worst when two police officers, wearing suits, knocked on his door after dawn on Jan. 18. "I knew it involved a family member," he told Do. "Who would come to your house at a time like that?"

Kim knew Dung worried about her when she went out with friends, as she did the night of Jan. 17 to the Crosby, but she told her father, "I have to have the chance to grow."

The security guard likened his pain to that of veterans returning from war:

"People come back. Shoot themselves. Shoot each other. They can go crazy all because they cannot hide from their memories. We would live a freer life if we can forget."

In other developments in the case:

* A press conference scheduled this afternoon by the attorney for the only named defendant in the case, Vanesa Tapia Zavala, was canceled. The 25-year-old Santa Ana mother, who is being held on $1 million bail, pleaded not guilty to murder last week.

* Do had another piece in the LA Times that concerned the difficulties homicide investigators have had in getting witnesses to tell them what happened. When it came to Vietnamese Americans, some experts blamed a cultural distrust of authority that extends back to the nightmares they experienced in Vietnam. Others theorized there could be fear of retaliation from Santa Ana's Hispanic community.

* Santa Ana city and police officials are reaching out to witnesses through the Vietnamese-language media, even offering private meetings with the police chief or mayor.

* Would more money help? The reward for information leading to another arrest and convictions in the case has climbed to $11,000.

* According to various online sources, one Pham friend who is refusing to speak with authorities has told others Pham was the one who threw the first punch, which landed on the face of Zavala. Things are said to have escalated very quickly and violently from there. Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas told the media Friday afternoon, "I don't have information that [Pham is] the one who threw the first punch." Zavala's attorneys have previously claimed she was knocked down early in the melee but did not participate in Pham's beating.

UPDATE NO. 2, JAN. 28, 8:55 A.M.: The Orange County District Attorney's office announced this morning that Candace Marie Brito, 27, of Santa Ana, has now been charged with one felony count of murder for her role in Kim Pham's death.

Prosecutors will ask that Brito's bail be set at $1 million at this morning's scheduled 10 a.m. arraignment in Santa Ana.

Conviction on the charges could send her to state prison for 15 years to life.

Other developments:

* Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino told City News Service reports that no one in the crowd outside The Crosby tried to help the victim were "completely inaccurate. ... There were plenty of people trying to break up this altercation." Pino added Pham's friends tried to intervene as well.

* Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas says investigators have determined that only three women were involved in the attack on Pham, despite earlier reports that five people were being sought. The female "person of interest" whose photo was distributed last week is still being sought.

* There was an unrelated fight between several men that broke out "almost simultaneously," according to Rojas, who described it as a "very chaotic" scene. There were about 50 people outside the club before the brawl, including three security guards.

* Police have three videos from different angles, including one that shows at least one security guard tried to break up the fight, according to the police chief. Some video has audio.

* Defense attorney Michael Molfetta, who represents Brito, told City News Service Friday that, "Unless they're in possession of a video I haven't seen, if it's the same one floating around then good luck'' prosecuting the case. "My sister could be in that video and I wouldn't be able to recognize her," Molfetta said. "It's impossible. ... And there are other aspects of the video that completely undermines the prosecution's theory." But Rojas countered his agency has "a strong enough case to book them for homicide."

* On the $11,000 reward referenced in an earlier update: Downtown Inc., a coalition of Santa Ana businesses, offered $5,000, the city of Santa Ana matched that amount and Orange County Crime Stoppers kicked in another $1,000. Anyone with more information or video of the brawl was asked to call police at 714.245.8390.
 

Candace Marie Brito
Candace Marie Brito
Photos courtesy of Santa Ana Police Department

UPDATE NO. 3, JAN. 28, 12:01 P.M.: Candace Marie Brito pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder at her arraignment this morning, and the judge set her bail at $1 million as prosecutors requested.

As the hearing was going on, a funeral service was held for Kim Pham at Blessed Sacrament Church in Westminster.

"My client maintains she was innocent and had nothing to do with any physical altercation with Annie Pham," Michael Molfetta, Brito's defense attorney, told City News Service. He conceded his client, who was arrested Friday, was at The Crosby that night.

"... [T]o the extent she was knocked to the ground, you can say she was involved," Molfetta said of Brito. "If the video is the centerpiece of their case, that dog won't hunt. The video doesn't tell us anything."

UPDATE NO. 4, JAN. 31, 8:36 A.M.: Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Gannon on Thursday scheduled a preliminary hearing for Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito to determine if there is enough evidence to put them on trial for Kim Pham's murder.

Meanwhile, Santa Ana Police say they have identified a third woman considered "a person of interest" in the case.

Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino told City News Service's Paul Anderson it will be up to a jury to set the degree of murder, but the maximum punishment with a conviction of 15 years to life in prison announced by the Orange County District Attorney's office is the sentence for second-degree murder.

"There's a reason why we want to proceed as quickly as we are proceeding," explained Brito's attorney Michael Molfetta. "It's not sneaky, nothing I'm really hiding the ball on, it's just a common sensical thing.

"You've got a lot of young people who have a very quick, explosive event and time does a lot of things, including fading memories. ... We're dealing with young people at a bar who were very, very hopped up--whether it was alcohol or adrenalin--so you want to get things memorialized."

Molfetta accused Pham of being "actively involved in starting the melee. ... I don't think anybody would have a problem establishing the fact that this whole thing started or was ignited by Ms. Pham."

Pino said it doesn't matter who started the fight: "The victim was on the ground, so it doesn't matter how it got to that point. She was then vulnerable, and any assault at that point was unjustified."

"You can still fight and present a threat to someone on the ground," Molfetta countered. "If you're on the ground fighting it's still going on. ... It's a street fight, not organized boxing."

Meanwhile, investigators are arranging to interview a third woman whose image was distributed to the public as part of the murder probe, according to an email Cpl. Anthony Bertagna reportedly sent to KPCC.

"At this point in the investigation, detectives have identified all the parties involved, including the third woman who remains a person of interest. Detectives are working with the person of interest to set up an interview," wrote the Santa Ana Police spokesman.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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