Witness Claims Gang Members Played Role In OC Nightclub Beating

Witness Claims Gang Members Played Role In OC Nightclub Beating

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Santa Ana, CA -

(FOX 11 / CNS) An attorney for one of two women charged in the beating death of a woman during a brawl outside a Santa Ana nightclub alleged today that the incident was gang related, a claim denied by a prosecutor.

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

Molfetta also complained that 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 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.''

Senior Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino responded, "This is not a gang case. Reports continue to issue from (Santa Ana police) and they are (turned over) to the defense once received.''

Brito, 27, and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, both of Santa Ana, are charged with murder in connection with the Jan. 19 beating of 23-year-old Annie Hung "Kim'' Pham outside The Crosby Bar and Nightclub. Pham was taken off life support and died two days later.

Brito and Zavala are scheduled to be arraigned Friday. They were both ordered to stand trial following a preliminary hearing earlier this month. Prosecutors have indicated the women will face second-degree murder. A defense attorney contended, however, that at best the prosecution could try for a manslaughter conviction.

After the preliminary hearing, Zavala attorney Kenneth Reed said police "picked a side'' and stopped looking for exculpatory evidence.

Molfetta argued during the preliminary hearing that his client "does not appear to be animated, does not appear to be angry'' in a video of the fight, and that it does not clearly show her kicking Pham. Even if Brito kicked Pham, Molfetta argued, "It did nothing to stop her,'' as Pham kept struggling with another woman -- known only in court as Amelia.

Pino argued at the preliminary hearing that Brito "sucker punched'' Pham twice and kicked her twice. Zavala delivered the final kick, after which Pham went limp, Pino argued.

Reed predicted that Pham's cause of death "will be an issue at trial.'' He also said the defendants were in the middle of a "melee,'' and Pham punched Zavala.

Santa Ana police Detective Leo Rodriguez, the lead detective, testified at the preliminary hearing that Zavala went to the nightclub with her boyfriend, Brito and another woman, who was with her boyfriend. Brito and Zavala have known each other for about two years and are good friends, Rodriguez said.

The detective said Zavala told police that as she, Brito and their group left the club, the other woman with them -- Amelia -- got into an argument with Pham.

Zavala and Brito wanted to ignore Pham, according to Zavala's statement to police, but Pham ``took a swing'' at Amelia, hitting Zavala instead, Rodriguez testified. Zavala said she dropped her phone and looked for it, but couldn't see what else happened, according to Rodriguez.

When Pham struck Zavala, "everything went crazy,'' Zavala claimed, Rodriguez said.

Detective Patricia Navarro testified at the preliminary hearing that a witness reported seeing Zavala waiting for her chance to kick and punch Pham while she was on the ground being beaten by two other women. The witness picked Zavala out of a photo lineup, Navarro said. The witness did not pick Brito out of a lineup, but did identify the third woman -- Amelia -- who is still being sought, according to Navarro.

Pino said it's not so clear-cut that Pham started the battle. "You've got different people seeing different things as you see in many trials,'' Pino said after the preliminary hearing. "But videos don't lie.''

Pino added that it doesn't matter if Pham started the fight. "For purposes of our case it doesn't matter whether she's the initial aggressor,'' Pino said. "The bottom line is she's on the ground defenseless when these two defendants kick her in the head, and that's what killed her.''

Molfetta disagreed. "It does matter who starts it,'' he said. "You must prove you didn't
start it.''

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