Kim Pham beating: Defense attorneys say gang members were involved in nightclub attack

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Lawyers said a witness has reported he was beaten by gang members who accompanied a 23-year-old woman who died after she was punched and kicked during a melee outside a Santa Ana nightclub in January.  

Defense attorneys say that the account supports their assertion that Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito acted in self-defense when they allegedly beat Kim Pham unconscious in the early morning hours of Jan. 18. Pham died two days later after she was taken off life support.

Zavala and Brito were back in court Friday to be arraigned on a count each of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury. The pair have already been charged with murder and have pleaded not guilty to all counts. They remain in jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

"There have been some developments in the case that directly implicate the Asians standing in line in terms of gang affiliation,'' Brito's attorney Michael Molfetta said. "They were the aggressors, the instigators."

Molfetta said the information came from a witness prosecutors have "known about since pretty close to the incident and was (made known to defense attorneys) only recently.''

Molfetta said he believes the evidence should have been presented at the preliminary hearing.

"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.''

But Senior Orange County Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino said prosecutors reject assertions that the fight was gang-related. 

"Reports continue to issue from (Santa Ana police) and they are (turned over) to the defense once received,'' Pino said. 

Santa Ana police officials said they do not comment on ongoing investigations.

During a preliminary hearing last week, detectives testified that Pham threw the first punch in the altercation outside The Crosby in Santa Ana.

Zavala and Brito are due back in court Monday for a trial-setting conference.


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