Kim Pham beating: Judge finds enough evidence for trial (updated)

Trial Of California Nightclub Murder

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A preliminary hearing continues for (lt to rt) Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito in the West Justice Center February 11, 2014 in Westminster, California. The two are charged in the beating death of Kim Pham in front of a Santa Ana nightclub.

Trial Of California Nightclub Murder

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Defense attorney Michael Molfetta continues his questioning of Santa Ana Police Detective Leo Rodriguez while Judge Thomas Borris listens in the background during the preliminary hearing for Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala in the West Justice Center February 11, 2014 in Westminster, California. The two are charged in the beating death of Kim Pham in front of a Santa Ana nightclub.

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A preliminary hearing continues for (lt to rt) Vanesa Tapia Zavala and Candace Marie Brito in the West Justice Center February 11, 2014 in Westminster, California. The two are charged in the beating death of Kim Pham in front of a Santa Ana nightclub.


At the end of two days of testimony, Orange County Sup. Ct. Judge Thomas Borris ordered Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito to face trial on murder charges for the death of Kim Pham, the young woman fatally beaten outside a Santa Ana nightclub last month. The two women had earlier watched in a Westminster courtroom as both the prosecution and the defense played videos of the fight and a detective parsed out the various punches and kicks, using a pointer and stopping the video several times to identify people in the melee.

Updates

3:29 p.m.: After preliminary decision, attorneys duel in separate press conferences 

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Troy Pino said that Borris made the right call.

Cell phone video played during the preliminary hearing “clearly shows Zavala and Brito kicking Pham,” he said.

But Candace Brito’s attorney, Michael Molfetta, told reporters the blame rested with Pham herself.

“It was a powder keg [outside the nightclub] that exploded – and Ms. Pham lit the match,” he said. He had argued prosecutors could only prove manslaughter, a lesser crime that carries a lower sentence.

The next hearing on the case will be Feb. 21 in Westminster.

2:26 pm: Judge orders women bound over for trial

At the end of two days of testimony, Orange County Sup. Ct. Judge Thomas Borris ordered Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito to face trial on murder charges for the beating death of Kim Pham.

Both defense attorneys had unsuccessfully argued that prosecutors did not meet the burden of proof for the murder charges - that Pham started the melee.

"This is a manslaughter, that's what this is … It's not a murder case," Molfetta said.

The last witness of the hearing, Darwin Arayata, said he heard the fight start and tried to break it up.

“From my recollection, there was a verbal argument happening behind me,” he said. “I saw Kim Pham say ‘why are you talking shit’ and then saw her throw a punch.”

The fight ensued and he said he saw Brito made her way toward Pham when she was on the ground and raised her leg for a kick, though he “never saw it land.”

The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is low - only whether enough evidence exists to go to trial. But the hearings often show what will be the issues at trial.

1:12 p.m.: Defense introduces video of incident

The preliminary hearing on the Kim Pham beating is expected to wrap up Tuesday afternoon with testimony of a witness who defense attorney Michael Molfetta said in court “did not make statements that police are attributing to him.”

Darwin Arayata, who recorded video of the altercation on his cell phone, was ordered by Judge Thomas Borris to testify. His video was the star witness of the day’s testimony, with prosecutors slowing it down and pointing out blows and kicks.

Defense attorney Kenneth Reed, who is representing Vanessa Zavala, also introduced another video of the altercation into evidence Tuesday morning. He played it in the Orange County courtroom as he questioned Santa Ana police detective Leo Rodriguez about the identity of a particular man in the crowd.

"We're still reviewing video and following up with witnesses to confirm everyone's identity," Rodriguez said.

Borris limited the use of the video.

Reed also used the cross-examination to underline that from his client’s point of view, Pham started the fight.

Reed: "Do you know whether Ms. Pham hit Ms. Zavala?"
Rodriguez: "It appears that she does in the video."
Reed: "My client told you that the female Asian hit her in the face and everything started going crazy?"
Rodriguez: "That is correct."

Reed also wanted on record that Zavala said the same thing to someone she thought was a cellmate in jail but turned out to be Santa Ana police homicide detective Patricia Navarro. Navarro testified Monday that she went into the jail undercover and talked to Zavala about the incident. She wore a wire to record the conversation, even though she said she had known that Zavala had invoked her right to an attorney.

Deputy DA Troy Pino stipulated and defense agreed for purposes of the preliminary hearing, that Zavala told Navarro: "She hit me first, I acted in self-defense."

12:01 p.m.: Cell phone video shows Pham punching defendants

Two women charged with fatally beating Kim Pham outside a Santa Ana nightclub last month watched in a Westminster courtroom Tuesday morning as prosecutors played cell phone video of the fight and a detective parsed out the various punches and kicks, using a pointer and stopping the video several times to identify people in the melee.

Based on the evidence provided, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris will determine whether there is enough evidence to hold Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 25, over for trial on murder charges.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino: "We see a couple of punches thrown [by Pham] to the left side of Ms. Brito's head." 

Santa Ana police department homicide detective, Leo Rodriguez: "That is correct."

Pino: "And Ms. Brito showing one kick?"
Rodriguez: "That is correct."
Pino: "Ms. Pham was struck two times in the head by Ms. Brito."
Rodriguez: "Correct."

Under cross-examination by Brito’s attorney, Michael Molfetta, Rodriguez acknowledged that eyewitnesses may have mentioned that Pham “fought back” and tried to muddy up who were the attackers in the Jan. 18 fight outside the Crosby nightclub.

Molfetta asked Rodriguez about a section of the video where an "Asian woman is seen kicking and punching Amelia."

Molfetta: "You don't even know if she is connected to Ms. Pham?"
Rodriguez: "It appears to me that she is."

During another portion of the questioning, Molfetta played the video involving a person of interest identified only as “Amelia,” who has not been charged in the case. During testimony Monday, detectives said eyewitnesses reported Pham, 23, threw the first punch at "Amelia" and that "Amelia" was with Brito and Zavala outside the club when the fight broke out.

Molfetta: "We hear on the video two voices, one person says 'Get the f--- off me' then we hear something to the effect of  'that's what you get b----.' Who is on the bottom between Pham and Amelia at that point?"
Rodriguez: "At the point it seemed like Pham was a little bit on top of, over Amelia."

Molfetta asked if it was "Amelia" that said 'get the f--- off me?'"

Rodriguez said he couldn't be sure.

Rodriguez said he has attempted to contact "Amelia" but hasn't been able to talk to her yet. He also said investigators had other video of the fight.

He also testified that Pham’s body was picked up by several people and put down at least two times before paramedics arrived. Pham died three days after the altercation when life support was removed. 

Brito and Zavala are being held in jail in Orange County in lieu of $1 million bail.

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