Kim Pham hearing: Detective reveals she went undercover in jail cell; witness details fight (updated)

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Three witnesses were called Monday as a preliminary hearing got underway Monday in Orange County Superior Court in Westminster for two women charged with murder in connection with the beating of Kim Pham.

Pham, 23, was beaten outside The Crosby nightclub in downtown Santa Ana shortly after midnight on January 18. 

RELATED: Cell phone video shows Pham punching defendants

She was taken off life support and died three days later. A coroner's report said Pham died from complications of "blunt force trauma to the head." 

Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 25, have pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Both are being held in jail in lieu of $1 million bail.


Update 4:40 p.m. Video evidence introduced, a few seconds shown

Santa Ana police detective Roland Andrade took the stand after the afternoon break. 

Andrade testified that he interviewed three people about the incident; he identified witnesses in court as Beverly M, Aaron R and Jason L. (Pino continued to use initials only for the last names of witnesses that had been interviewed after the altercation during the hearing, but defense attorneys used the last names).

Andrade testified, on questioning from DA Troy Pino, that Aaron R had observed the fight through his cell phone as he recorded the altercation. 

Andrade: "He (Aaron R) indicated on female kicked Ms. Pham and that a second woman came and kicked Pham on the ground and that kick knocked her (Pham) her out."

Andrade testified that Aaron had a total of four recordings of the altercation, including two that were recorded after paramedics arrived. 

Pino introduced the video into evidence that was recorded by Aaron R. It was not shown in the courtroom.

Pino: "Did you contact a Jason L?"

Andrade: "Yes, he was in line at The Crosby and described the Hispanic female saying something similar to 'excuse me' in a somewhat sarcastic manner and (Pham) responded with obscenities … Ms. Pham broke free from two members of her party and then struck one of the Hispanic females."

After he was shown a photo array, Andrade said Jason L recognized Zavala as being there (at the altercation) but he did not recognize Brito or identify either as having kicked Pham.

Molfetta questioned Andrade on what Jason L told him about the altercation.

Molfetta asked if Jason L told Andrade that Pham started the fight. Andrade responded: "yes."

Andrade: "He (Jason L) described Pham as calling the Hispanic group 'bitches' and something along the line of 'I'll f**k you up.'"

Molfetta: "He told you the Hispanic girl didn't want to fight."

Andrade: "Yes, sir."

Molfetta: "He told you that Kim is able to break free from her friends and hits the Hispanic girl in her face."

Andrade: "Yes, sir."

Andrade testified he went to the hospital where Pham was taken.

Reed asked Andrade, who worked with detective McLeod on the follow-up investigation, if there was alcohol in Pham's system.

Andrade: "There was alcohol in her system."

Reed: "Do we know who else was involved in this fighting?

Andrade: "I can only speak for the interviews we conducted sir, and efforts were made to contact those people who were there (at the scene of altercation), including names, contacts, witnesses."

Reed: "But we don't have any names do we?"

Andrade: "We have some but not all of them."

Reed: "Jason L testified Pham struck at two Hispanic girls, did you ever figure out which one she (Pham) struck?"

Andrade: "No sir."

Santa Ana police department homicide detective, Leo Rodriguez, is the lead investigator in the case and was the next witness called by DA Pino.

He testified that he spoke with Vanesa Zavala twice while she was held in custody, the first time after she was arrested.

Pino: "What did you ask her and what did she say?"

Rodriguez: "She told me she was there with two girlfriends (including Candace Brito) and two males, one she identified as her boyfriend Michael, and Emilia's boyfriend."

Rodriguez said Zavala told him her group was leaving The Crosby; Ms. Zavala said she was in front of the group with her boyfriend. She said her friend and Pham called each other names. Then the "Asian girl took a swing at Emilia but hit her (Zavala)."

"She said everything went crazy, she dropped her phone and started looking for her phone on the ground."

Pino: "And then you asked Zavala further questions about the incident?"

Rodriguez: "Her reaction was maybe to hit back and she might have swung at her once." 

Pino: "And she tells you this after you say you have the video."

Rodriguez: "Yes." 

Rodriquez told Pino that Zavala told him that she "didn't kick the Asian girl, another statement she made was that she didn't remember kicking."

He also testified that he interviewed Brito in her driveway prior to her arrest and that he recognized her and Zavala when he later viewed videos of the altercation.

Pino used a projector, to show a video, freezing it at a spot during the altercation and asked Rodriquez to identify Pham, Brito and Zavala.

At this point in the video, Rodriquez said Pham is seen throwing a punch.

The video is played forward for about 10 more seconds and paused as  Rodriquez responded to questions about Brito's actions. 

Before the hearing continued, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris adjourned for the day. The preliminary hearing resumes at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday in Westminster.

Update 3:24 p.m.: Witness describes "hair-pulling, punching incident"

The next witness was Santa Ana police detective Matthew McLeod, who said he is assigned to the crimes against persons homicide division. The 17-year department veteran testified he was part of the follow-up investigation in the case.

McLeod said he interviewed a witness identified as Darwin A. on January 23. The detective said Darwin A. described the beginning of the altercation, calling it a "hair-pulling, punching" incident.

The detective said Darwin A. had told him that he witnessed two women, one Asian and one Hispanic "go to the ground." "He then said he saw a second Hispanic woman come over and kick the Asian female. He [Darwin A] said he then saw a third female Hispanic woman come over and kick the Asian female in the left temple area." 

McLeod testified that Darwin A. said he was not associated with any of the people involved in the incident. In response to Pino, McLeod said Darwin A. identified Vanesa Zavala out of a photo array and that Darwin A. identified Zavala as "the third woman who had kicked the Asian female."

McLeod said he showed Darwin A a second photo array and Darwin A "identified Candace Brito and indicated she looked like one of the kickers involved in the case. He (Darwin A) indicated that Ms. Brito looked to be the first person to kick the female Asian." 

Pino: "In the head and face area?"
McLeod: "In the head and face area, yes."
Pino: "Did he [Darwin A] say he had recorded video of the incident?"
McLeod: "He told me that he had recorded it with his cellular phone."
Pino: "Did you see the video?"
McLeod: "I did see it right on his phone."
Pino: "Did he say the video had been altered in any way."
McLeod: "He told me it had not."

Pino entered a CD of the video into evidence, but did not show it in the courtroom during the questioning of McLeod. The detective also said he saw Pham in the hospital after the incident as part of his investigation and that she was "not conscious."

Brito attorney Michael Molfetta questioned McLeod about what Darwin A told him.

Molfetta: "What he told you was that initially Ms. Pham was in the other girl's face?"
McLeod: "I believe he told me that they were in each other's faces."
Molfetta: "There was more than one fight going on between girls that night?"
McLeod: "That's what he (Darwin A) said."
Molfetta: "He also told you that … Ms. Pham continued fighting, correct?"
McLeod: "Correct."
Molfetta: "What Darwin A. told you was based on his watching his video or based on his recollection?"
McLeod: "I remember him discussing that he had seen the video and others' [video], but I also admonished him that I wanted him to tell me what he saw from his recollection."

Zavala attorney Kenneth Reed asked McLeod if Darwin A told him that several Asian men chased the women who had been fighting Pham down the street after the incident.  McLeod testified Darwin A. did tell him he saw that the men chasing the women.

Reed: "He did tell you that he watched his video over and over and over again to figure out what happened?"
McLeod: "He did say he watched it several times, yes."
Reed: "You used the word mayhem in your report?"
McLeod: "Yes."
Reed: "Was that from Darwin A. or was that your word?"
McLeod: "My word."
Reed: "Were you able to determine who the players are on the video?"
McLeod: "Yes, the ones that have been identified."

Reed and Molfetta continued to question McLeod about the videos of the incident he has seen.  

On redirect, Pino again asked McLeod about the video recorded by Darwin A and what he saw.

McLeod: "He stated that [defendant. Brito] kicked Ms. Pham in the head and then on further clarification,  he said aiming at her head."
Pino: "Then Ms. Brito was pushed away and Ms. Zavala came in and kicked Pham's head?"
McLeod: "Yes."

Both defense attorneys then questioned McLeod about Darwin A's comments about the kicks to the head.

Molfetta: "What [Darwin A.] said was 'face' not 'head?'"
McLeod: "What he said was face but he used his hands to indicate this area."

McLeod gesticulated over his own head and face.

McLeod: "When I saw her in the hospital she had several injuries around her face and head area."
Reed: "Did you see injuries around her left temple?"
McLeod: "I recall seeing several injuries around her face."

After McLeod was dismissed, Judge Borris adjourned for the afternoon break. 

Update 2:06 p.m.: Under questioning, detective reveals she had gone undercover in defendant's jail cell

Santa Ana police homicide detective Patricia Navarro testified she had gone undercover into the jail cell where Zavala was being held, in jail clothes, and did not identify herself as a police detective.

Under questioning from Zavala's attorney, Navarro revealed she talked to Zavala about the incident, even though she said she had known that Zavala had invoked her right to an attorney.

Navarro said she responded to the scene of the incident at 4th and Broadway in Santa Ana on January 18.

Then, this exchange between Reed and Navarro, sent the defense attorneys, prosecutor Pino and Judge Borris outside the courtroom for a sidebar.

Reed: Did you have any previous contact with my client?
Navarro: No.
Reed: Did you have any contact with my client at the (police) station? 
Navarro. No.
Reed: Anytime at the station?
Navarro: No.
Reed: In her (jail) cell?
Navarro: Yes.
Reed: Were you dressed as an inmate?
Navarro: Yes.
Reed: "After my client invokes (her right to an attorney) she is put in a jail cell and you are put in a cell with her, undercover as an inmate? Is that correct?
Navarro: Yes.
Reed: And you asked my clients questions?
Navarro: Correct.
Reed: What were you doing in a cell?
Navarro: I was asked to act in an undercover capacity and contact Ms. Zavala and find out what happened.
Reed: Do you know she had asked for an attorney?
Navarro: Yes.
Reed: Who asked you to do this?
Navarro: The case agent, detective Leo Rodriguez. (Rodriguez, who worked the case as an investigator for the OCDA's office, is sitting next to DA Pino).
Reed: Did you have a tape recording device on your person?
Navarro: Yes.
Reed: How long were you in the cell with Ms. Zavala?
Navarro: I believe I was in the cell with Ms. Zavala for approximately an hour.
Reed: Who did you tell her you were?
Navarro: I don't believe I gave her my name.
Reed: Ultimately she didn't talk to you?
Navarro: No we spoke.
Reed: Did she talk to you about this event (incident outside The Crosby nightclub January 18)?
Navarro: Yes, she did.

Attorneys and the judge left the courtroom before Reed finished his questioning.

When they returned, the Judge asked Deputy DA Troy Pino if Navarro would be excused for the day. Pino said yes. Judge Borris told Navarro she would be expected to return at 9 a.m. Tuesday for additional questioning.

Update 12:19 p.m.: Forensic pathologist details injuries

The defendants — Candace Brito and Vanesa Zavala — were dressed in civilian clothes and wearing handcuffs, seated at the defense table Monday. Pham's father and sister were also in the courtroom, along with friends of the defendants.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino called three witnesses before Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris before Monday's lunch break.

Pino's first witness was Dr. Etoi Davenport, a forensic pathologist, who performed Pham's autopsy.  
Davenport said Pham had evidence of "medical intervention and donor procurement" and of "bruising and contusions of both of her eyes, behind her left ear and some minor bruising of her forehead, lower extremities and lower back." 

Almost all of Pham's organs, along with some bones and skin, had been removed for donation before Davenport was able to examine her, she said. 

Pham weighed 85 pounds and was 5' 1" at the time of the autopsy, Davenport testified.

"There was bruising on the undersurface of her scalp, but I did not seen any skull fractures," she said. "But I saw the brain was swollen and there was extensive bleeding and softness of the brain."

Pino: "What could cause this?"

Davenport: "Blunt force injury of the head. There were blows to the head and as a result of that she passed away." 

She added that she "can't determine if one blow was more significant than the others."  

Zavala's attorney Kenneth Reed asked Davenport whether her conclusions were based solely on examining Pham. Davenport said she was told Pham was involved in a fight and the cause of death was due to "blunt force trauma to the head."

Reed: "You don't know whether these [blunt force trauma] were punches, kicks or hitting the ground."

Davenport: "No."

Reed asked her what investigators told her about the incident.

"They told me she was in a fight with one person, then another, and that she was punched, then went to the ground and was kicked, then kicked again," said Davenport. 

"I concluded that she probably struck her head on the ground in the fight with the initial person," she said. 

Reed: "But you don't know the sequence when that happened, you don't know exactly when the punches happened and you don't know which hard surface was hit?"

Davenport: "That is correct."

Reed continued to ask Davenport if she could identify what specifically caused the blunt force trauma.

"It could have happened from her head hitting a hard surface, hard punches or kicks," Davenport responded.

Reed: "You can't tell us whether a punch, or a kick, or a hard surface, either ground or wall, caused that blunt force trauma?"

Davenport answered "That is correct" to each of Reed's questions.

On questioning from Brito attorney Michael Molfetta, Davenport testified that toxicology results on Pham are not yet available. 

"There is no evidence that she was shaken to the point of causing [brain] injury," Davenport said.

Davenport testified she was told by an Orange County District Attorney investigator that Pham "became unresponsive after the second kick."

Molfetta: "In terms of bruising to Ms. Pham's eyes – how did that happen?"

Davenport replied that the bruising was a result of brain hemorrhaging.

"It could have been caused by one punch or one kick," she said ,on direct questioning from Molfetta.

Reed, on cross-examination, asked Davenport whether a punch, kick, or  Pham's head hitting a hard surface, could have caused the brain injury.

Davenport testified that, whatever they order the injuries occurred, she could not tell from the autopsy which strike led to Pham's death.

"I cannot tell you whether she hit her head on a hard surface, I didn't see a video of the incident and I wasn't there," said Davenport in response to District Attorney Pino. 

"I can say that hard surfaces usually don't cause injury to the eyes. It could be an elbow, kick or toe would have to come into that area," Davenport said as she consulted her autopsy report. Pino, Reed and Molfetta looked over her shoulders as she did.

Reed and Pino each asked Davenport again about the blunt force trauma. 

Reed: "You can't really tell us the number of times she (Pham) was hit?

Davenport: "Absolutely not."

Pino: "There is not necessarily one injury that caused this death?"

Davenport: "That is true."

After an hour of testimony, Davenport was excused. 

Officers testify on scene immediately following beating

Santa Ana police officer Gerardo Corona was the next witness to testify. He said when he arrived on the scene at The Crosby nightclub in downtown Santa Ana, he found Pham lying on the sidewalk in front of the club. 

"She had her hands up to her mouth and she was unresponsive," testified Corona.

Corona said he interviewed three witnesses at the scene, who were with Pham, and testified what each told him about the incident. The witnesses were identified in court as Jacqueline D., Dorothy V. and Ben V. 

Corona said Dorothy V. and Jacqueline D.  said an Hispanic female bumped into Pham, who was standing in line outside the club, and the "female told Pham 'watch where you're going.'"

Corona said an argument between the woman and Pham began and that "the woman punched Pham." He testified the witnesses told him "2-3 females began attacking Pham, punching her and Pham fell to the ground, and the females kicked her head and face."

One witness, identified in court as Dorothy V., told Corona she watched as one of the Hispanic "females kicked Ms. Pham on her head."

Corona said Ben V. told him "he started pulling the Hispanic women off Ms. Pham and said Ms. Pham was his ex-girlfriend."

On questioning from Zavala attorney Reed, Corona testified he did not ask the three witnesses whether or not they were fighting.

Reed: "You didn't ask if they were involved in fighting or if Pham threw a punch?"

Corona: "Not specifically, no. I asked what happened next and what occurred throughout the incident."

On questioning from Molfetta, Corona testified that the order of events, based on the three witnesses, was that three hispanic women punched Pham while Pham was in line, Pham was taken to the ground and then they continued to punch and kick Pham was on the ground. 

Molfetta: "Her head was facing the street and her feet was facing the building, right?"

Corona: "Yes."

Molfetta: "As far as you know she was not moved after you got there."

Corona: "Yes."

Molfetta asked Corona if he remembered what Jacqueline D and Dorothy V were wearing when he questioned them at the scene. Molfetta described the clothing and Corona agreed with the descriptions. Corona also told Molfetta he had not seen any video of the incident. 

Molfetta: "And they said they weren't involved in the fighting, right?"

Corona: "Yes."

Corona said after he questioned the three witnesses at the scene, he was directed to take them to the Santa Ana Police Department.

Santa Ana police homicide detective Patricia Navarro testified next. She recounted eyewitness testimony from witnesses she interviewed in days after the incident.

A man identified only as Patrick M., came forward several days after the incident, to describe what he saw happen. Navarro said Patrick M. did not know Pham. 

Navarro:  "He stated [he saw] a Hispanic female punching Pham about 10 times. He says Pham begins punching back and then they fall to the ground. He sees a second female Hispanic kick towards Pham's head."

Navarro testified Patrick M. told her he saw a female "that appeared to be with Ms. Pham's group, push an Hispanic female to the ground. As the fight goes on, "he states the third female stands there 'trying to get her hits in.'"

Navarro said Patrick M. was shown photo arrays. He identified Zavala as the Hispanic woman that had kicked and punched at Ms. Pham on the ground. 

Before further questioning of detective Navarro, Judge Borris adjourned court for a lunch break.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m.

5:30 a.m.: Preliminary hearing set for Monday in Westminster

A preliminary hearing is scheduled Monday in Westminster for two women charged with murder in connection with the beating death of Kim Pham. 

Pham, 23, was beaten outside The Crosby nightclub in downtown Santa Ana shortly after midnight on January 19. 

She was taken off life support three days later. A coroner's report says Pham died from "blunt force trauma to the head."

Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 25, both of Santa Ana, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Both are being held in jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino will likely call Santa Ana police officers, doctors and medical examiners to testify. Pino is also likely to present cellphone video taken of the incident, which he has said clearly shows the people who kicked and punched Pham during the altercation.

The defense attorneys have seen the video, but this would be the first time it's shown in open court as evidence against the defendants.

Defense attorneys Kenneth Reed and Michael Molfetta have said their clients did not kill Pham.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. in Orange County Superior Court in Westminster.

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