Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito Plead Not Guilty to Kim Pham's Murder: Update

See the update at the end of this post on the defendants pleading not guilty at their arraignment today.

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 21, 7:06 A.M.: The fatal beating of Kim Pham outside The Crosby in Santa Ana was gang-related, according to an attorney.

No, not the district attorney. It's the defense attorney for one of the two Latinas facing second degree murder charges in the case.

“There have been some developments in the case that directly implicate the Asians standing in line in terms of gang affiliation,” charged Michael Molfetta, who represents Candace Marie Brito. “They were the aggressors, the instigators.”


Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito Ordered to Stand Trial for Kim Pham's Murder

Molfetta's explosive statement, which was picked up by a City News Service reporter, was made a day before today's scheduled arraignment of his client and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, who could go to prison for 15 years to life with convictions.

The attorney claims the Asian gang information came from a witness the prosecution has known about since pretty soon after the Jan. 19 incident but that the defense was only recently made aware of the person. One Alfonso Magana, a Marine, told Santa Ana detectives that his girlfriend, known only as Emilia and sought by police as a potential suspect, was getting beaten by Pham when he jumped in to try and save her. At that point, men in Pham's group jumped in, chased after Magana, and tried to beat him up. During the melee, they shouted “You know where you're at!” and shouted out the name of a gang, a gang Magana didn't recognize at the time.

Molfetta complained the witness was not made available to the defense before the preliminary hearing in Superior Court, where Judge Thomas Borris ruled there was enough evidence to hold Brito and Zavala over for trial.

“It explains what occurred and why it occurred and it puts to rest this ridiculous assertion that a lack of cooperation from the Asian community in this case was somehow a cultural thing,” Molfetta said. “Now we know why. Gang members do not cooperate with law enforcement.”

If true, the charges would put one hell of a spin on the Pham case, which has received international attention and has turned from a simple story of an innocent viciously beaten at will while the world stood by into something far more complex. But Senior Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino countered to City News Service, “This is not a gang case,” and he claimed Santa Ana Police are still issuing reports from the ongoing investigation that are given “to the defense once received.”

UPDATE, FEB. 21, 11:12 A.M.: Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito pleaded not guilty at their arraignment today.

Prosecutors today added a charge of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury against Zavala, 25, and Brito, 27, who are due back in court Monday for a trial-setting conference.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Register (no paywall … yay!) has identified the witness who claims that after the bumping incident with the late Kim Pham, he, Brito and a woman identified as Emilia were attacked by Asian gang members outside The Crosby.

Alfonso Magana, the boyfriend of the acquaintance identified as Emilia, told detectives in a Jan. 27 interview that he learned after the bumping incident – which apparently triggered the Jan. 18 melee outside The Crosby – that Asian gang members attacked him and later swung at Emilia and Brito.

Zavala and Brito were among five people in Magana's group that night leaving The Crosby because it was taking too long to get a drink at the crowded bar, Magana said.


After two men took a fighting stance, Magana said he wanted to leave but Pham grabbed Emilia's hair, took her to the ground and the fight was on. He was hit by eight men from Pham's group and was later chased by them, Magana told detectives.

He said he could see Emilia getting beaten by Pham, describing Pham as holding his girlfriend's hair with one hand and hitting her with the other. Magana said Zavala and Brito were fighting with Pham's other friends and several men chased and tried to attack him. Emilia and Brito eventually came to Magana's aid and hit the men.

“Anybody who doesn't think that this completely changes this case and what occurred that night is completely out of their mind,” Brito's lawyer, Michael Molfetta, reportedly told the Register. “You can understand (Brito and Zavala's) concern. And, there's not a scintilla of evidence that any of the Hispanic group (in the fight) had anything to do with gangs.”

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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