See the update on page two about Judge Thomas Borris ordering Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala to stand trial for Kim Pham's murder.
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 11, 7:37 A.M.: A preliminary hearing tied to the fatal beating of Kim Pham outside the Crosby nightclub in downtown Santa Ana last month came to an abrupt halt Monday when a detective testified she posed as a jail inmate, wore a wire and was planted in the cell of one of the accused killers.
Santa Ana Police Detective Patricia Navarro said she talked about the case with Vanesa Tapia Zavala, even though the second-degree-murder defendant had previously invoked her right to have an attorney. Navarro's disclosure temporarily halted the hearing in Westminster that's meant to determine whether there is enough evidence to put 25-year-old Zavala and Candace Marie Brito, 27, on trial for the beating death of 23-year-old Annie Hung “Kim” Pham.
This came on the heels of a bombshell deposition of a Santa Ana police detective who said, under sworn testimony, that Pham “was the reason for the fight.”
According to Detective Roland Andrade, Pham was the one who bumped into the group of friends that included Brito and Zavala. After their friend sarcastically told Pham, “Excuse me,” Pham started cussing them out. After cooler heads tried to prevail, the scene escalated, which led to the beating that would kill Pham and have Brito and Zavala awaiting murder charges.
The momentary stop of Navarro's testimony for the prosecution caused attorneys for both sides to meet privately with the judge. After the closed-door discussion, the police detective was excused for the day and told return to court at 9 this morning.
Before the break, Navarro had testified that a witness identified only as “Patrick” said Zavala stood by, “waiting to get her hits in,” while Pham was being attacked by two other assailants, according to courtroom reports by City News Service and KNBC4 News.
Patrick, who did not know Pham, told investigators he saw the women arguing with Pham before a “female Hispanic” punched Pham 10 times, Navarro testified. Pham fell to the ground, attempting to punch back, the detective added.
Navarro said Patrick picked Zavala and a third woman police want to speak with out of a photo lineup, but he did not select the image of Brito.
Three of Pham's friends told Santa Ana Police Officer Gerardo Corona, who was among the first on the scene, that a woman “bumped” into Pham outside the nightclub, sparking an argument. The woman told Pham, “Watch where you're going” before things turned physical, Corona testified.
Michael Molfetta, who represents Brito, has previously said Pham started the melee.
Pham sustained at least five blows to the head and died when the brain swelled and blood vessels burst all over her brain, testified Dr. Etoi Davenport, who performed the autopsy. Pressed by defense attorneys on the fatal blow, Davenport replied Pham could have died because of a punch or kick or by hitting her head when she fell.
See updates on page two.
UPDATE, FEB. 11, 2:44 P.M.: After two days of testimony in Orange County Superior Court in Westminster, Judge Thomas Borris today ordered Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito to stand trial for the murder of Kim Pham.
Zavala and Brito are scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 21.
Today was spent looking at various cell phone videos of the melee outside the Crosby in Santa Ana before Borris found there is enough evidence to warrant a trial. Prosecutors say the evidence and witness statements justify second-degree murder charges, while Brito's attorney Michael Molfetta countered they at most support manslaughter counts.
Molfetta also claimed the lead investigator on the case, Santa Ana Police Detective Leo Rodriguez, had not taken adequate steps to contact the remaining person of interest, who was identified in court as Amelia Avila. According to a City News Service report, Molfetta sarcastically suggested that Rodriguez use the State Bar website to find Avila's attorney and chided him for trying to find her at home in the middle of the day.
As for yesterday's drama involving another Santa Ana police detective, Patricia Navarro, who prompted a halt in the proceedings after she testified she posed as a jail inmate to get Zavala to discuss the attack, both the defense and prosecution stressed Zavala only told the undercover officer that Pham hit her first and that Zavala was defending herself.
According to what police say they have been told by the defendants, Brito, Zavala, Avila and the boyfriends of the latter two women were leaving the nightclub when Avila got into an argument with Pham. Zavala and Brito wanted to ignore Pham, but Pham took a swing at Avila and hit Zavala instead. Chaos ensued.
Witnesses said Zavala stood by, waiting to get her hits in, and that Pham fell to the ground trying to punch back, according to testimony Monday.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.