Twenty-five-year-old Vanesa Zavala took the stand in her own defense yesterday afternoon after witnessing six days of testimony against her. The accused mother, who has thus far been fairly muted in court, spoke softly but firmly while being questioned by her defense attorney, Kenneth Reed.
Reed initially had her describe what she remembered about that night--who got pushed (herself and Candace Brito), where her friends were during the fight (she doesn't know), who started the fight (Pham punched her in the face)--before addressing the kicks she threw in the videos.
She said that she wasn't trying to kick Pham. Rather, she was trying to kick Binh Dinh, Pham's ex-boyfriend, whom she says was rushing herself and a woman police only know as Emilia.
"He was a threat to me," she said, adding she didn't know if her kicks connected with anything.
Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino immediately attacked the perceived holes in Zavala's story on cross-examination.
First was the her claim that she intended to kick Dinh instead of Pham. In interviews with the police, she never mentioned Dinh.
"You didn't see fit to tell [police] that you . . . kick[ed] at someone else?" Pino asked three times, the first two drawing objections from Michael Molfetta, Candace Brito's defense attorney; both objections were overruled.
As Pino's questioning continued, Zavala's answers became softer, nearing the point of inaudibility. Pino had Zavala watch a video with him, identifying herself and following herself as she possibly pulled Pham's hair from behind, threw her to the ground using her hair, and seem to prepare to kick Pham.
Zavala appeared to begin to kick Pham before Dinh was near either of them.
"You started to kick before Binh Dinh got there, didn't you?" Pino asked.
As his questioning continued, both Pham's family and Zavala began to cry.
"Were you mad?" he asked.
"I was confused," she replied through tears. "Everything happened so fast."
A short time later, she repeated three times "I didn't kick her."
"You went out that night, right?" Pino asked.
"Yes," Zavala replied quietly.
"You didn't want trouble, but you got in a fight, right?"
"Yes," Zavala replied even quieter.
"The person you got in a fight with died, right?"
"Yes," Zavala barely said.
Molfetta attempted to salvage the defense, successfully calming Zavala. She continued to cry, blinking away tears fervently, but managed to answer his questions.
"Now, in court, we've been watching the videos in slow motion, but it didn't happen in slow motion that night, did it?" he asked.
"No," she answered.
"Were you scared?"
"Were things going on at a million miles an hour?"
"You didn't know where your boyfriend was?"
"You didn't know where Candace was?"
"You didn't know where Emilia's boyfriend was?"
"In fact, you were looking around, and you're surrounded, and you see people pulling on Emilia, but you see no one pulling Ms. Pham," Molfetta said.
On his second cross-examination, Pino went full TV legal drama, asking Zavala if she saw Pham's unconscious body after the fight.
"You saw her on the sidewalk, right?" he asked.
"You saw her unconscious, right?"
"No," she replied. "I was looking for my phone."
On redirect, Reed asked if Zavala even knew where Pham was when she kicked at Binh Dinh, to which she said no. But on the final cross examination, Pino asked a question that was stricken from the record on a successful objection.
"Do you know where her body is now?"
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Zavala stepped down after that. Reed then called five character witnesses who testified that Zavala was honest and wasn't violent, and then he rested his case.
Molfetta will begin his defense of Candace Brito on Monday.