Kim Pham beating: Suspects back in court Friday

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Two Santa Ana women are due back in court Friday for a second arraignment on murder and other charges in connection with the fatal beating of Kim Pham. 

Candace Marie Brito, 27, and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, have already been charged with one count of felony murder.  

On Friday, they are scheduled to be charged with two additional counts each: assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and a sentencing enhancement of inflicting great bodily harm. If the women are convicted, the enhancement means the judge can impose a longer prison sentence. 

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 found guilty. 

The two defendants were bound over for trial after a two day preliminary hearing earlier this month in Orange County Superior Court. It's likely that Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris will set a trial date at the Friday arraignment. 

Pham, 23, of Westminster, was assaulted just after midnight on January 18, outside The Crosby nightclub in downtown Santa Ana.  She was declared dead two days after the incident when life support was removed. The Orange County Coroner's Office said Pham died from blunt force trauma to the head.  

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

But just who started the fight outside The Crosby is in dispute.

During the preliminary hearing, testimony from police investigators cited a witness who told them the fight started after Pham started swearing at a group of people, which included Zavala and Brito. The witness also said that Pham threw the first punch. But friends who were with Pham outside the nightclub say three women, including Zavala and Brito, attacked Pham after they bumped into her.

Cellphone videos of the altercation were shown in court during the hearing. 

One video shows Pham wrestling with another woman on a sidewalk. As they struggle, a woman in a white blouse, black jacket and boots approaches and appears to kick Pham in the head. Prosecutors say the woman doing the kicking is Zavala. Immediately after the kick, Pham goes limp and the clip ends with her friends lifting her by her arms as they try to carry her away. 

Other footage appears to show Brito kicking Pham as well before Brito is knocked to the ground by another woman.

Police are still seeking to interview a third woman, identified in court testimony as "Amelia," who they say is the person wrestling on the ground with Pham when she is kicked.

Zavala told police that Pham's first swing hit her and the fight began.

Defense attorneys have repeatedly indicated that Pham's friends might have minimized her role in the fight and their involvement.

With contributions by KPCC Wire Services

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