Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito, the two women found guilty in July of voluntary manslaughter in the case of Kim Pham, who was beaten to death outside a Santa Ana nightclub, have each been sentenced to serve six years in state prison.
UPDATE, Nov. 14 12:34 p.m.: Check page two for reaction to the verdict and the lead up to Goethals' decision.
The ruling came today courtesy of Judge Thomas Goethals at the Orange County Superior Courthouse who at one point bemoaned the fact that while neither woman had started the melee that led to Pham's death, neither had helped diffuse the situation.
"Where does justice lie in this case?" Goethals asked aloud at one point. "I think I know what happened. The question I can't answer why did it happen. Why did this horrible event transpire."
Goethals acknowledged that both defendants bore "many similarities" to Pham, who was alleged to have started the fight which apparently began when someone bumped into someone on the sidewalk. "If they meet under different circumstances, they might have been friends," Goethals said. "If the events hadn't transpired the way they did, people here might be in different seats."
"Why didn't they walk away?" Goethals asked, almost yelling, directing his question at Zavala and Brito. "If any of you had walked away, none of us would be sitting here . . . This is just sad and tragic."
For a complete view of the case, read our comprehensive coverage of the trial and its aftermath.
UPDATE Nov. 14 12:33 p.m.:
The sentencing and Goethals' extended explanation of his decision came after six victim impact testimonies were given. Pham's friends and family took the podium to tearfully explain how her death had affected their lives.
"The pain is beyond repair," said Katie Nguyen, Pham's older sister. She had to explain to her parents what had happened on their way to the hospital. "The day Kim died, so did a piece of myself."
Her relatives and friends spoke of depression and a future unfulfilled — nephews that will never their aunt, weddings left unattended, relationships left broken. James Pham, Kim's father, gave the final statement.
"I think the world has everything, but the world doesn't have my daughter," he said tearfully. He went on to thank the court and all of the lawyers for their conduct during the trial, and specifically defense attorneys Kenneth Reed and Michael Molfetta for empathizing with him and apologizing for what happened.
Following the impact statements and legal arguments made by the attorneys, Brito and Zavala spoke. Both began to cry as they expressed how deeply sorry they were — how they prayed for Pham's family and even to Pham for forgiveness.
"If I could change it all, I would," Brito said as she began to descend into tears. "I will live with this for the rest of my life."
After the verdict was announced, there was no joy, just more mourning. Brito and Zavala received six years in state prison, the middle sentence for their crime. Though both aggravating factors (which would have demanded a higher sentence) and mitigating factors (which would have required a lower one) existed, Goethals decided that they cancelled out.
Prosecutor Troy Pino was not surprised by the sentence, fully expecting the outcome. "I understand the judge's sentence," Pino said, "He's the sole sentencing authority, and we have to respect that."
James Pham, the patriarch of the family, found no joy in the sentencing, hoping instead that his family's loss could at least prevent future violence from happening.
"Any sentence the judge decided would have been the same for me," he said. "The most important thing is that my daughter cannot be brought back. I really want everybody who is angry to think about this case. Like I said in the courtroom, Mrs. Zavala and Brito knew who my daughter was, and what she did, what she thought, they wouldn't have done that.
"I appreciated [what they said]," he said when asked about the defendants praying for Kim's family and to Kim for forgiveness. "I feel good when I heard that."