Kim Pham beating: 2 women face Thursday hearing on murder charges

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Two women from Santa Ana face a pre-trial hearing Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in connection with the fatal beating of Kim Pham outside a Santa Ana nightclub.

Candace Marie Brito, 27, and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, are both charged with one count of felony murder. Both have pleaded not guilty and remain jailed in lieu of $1 million bail. They each face a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in state prison if convicted. 

Pham, 23, of Westminster, was assaulted just after midnight on Jan. 19 outside  Santa Ana club.  She was declared dead two days after the incident. The Orange County Coroner's Office says she died from blunt force trauma to the head.  

Santa Ana police say Zavala and Brito were among a group of five people leaving the club early Saturday morning when the altercation occurred between them and Pham’s group, who'd been waiting to enter the club. 

Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino is handling both cases. He said Wednesday that he will ask the judge Thursday to merge both cases so Zavala and Brito could be tried together. The pre-trial hearing for Brito and Zavala is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach. 

"This was not a race-related incident," Pino told KPCC Wednesday. "And reports about people standing around and not stepping in to help Pham are not true." 

Brito's attorney, Michael Molfetta, said she "had nothing to do with what happened to Pham." He said Pham died "tragically, unnecessarily. It was senseless, mindless."

Molfetta said his client has no criminal record.

Kenneth Reed, who represents Zavala, said that he is "confident that ultimately my client will be found not guilty." 

Funeral services for Pham were Tuesday in Westminster.

Santa Ana police detectives are looking for a "person of interest" and want to talk with two men who had been part of the group but are not believed to have been part of the altercation. 

Anyone who witnessed the incident or might have information, including cell phone video, are urged to call Santa Ana police detectives at (714)245-8390 or Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS.

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