SANTA ANA (CBS/AP) — The trial of two women charged with kicking another woman to death in a brawl outside a popular Orange County nightclub began Wednesday with both sides showing the jury cellphone footage of the melee.
The blurry, seconds-long videos are expected to be critical evidence used by both prosecutors and defense in the trial of Vanesa Zavala, 26, and Candace Brito, 27, who were arrested in the death of newlywed and aspiring writer Annie Hung Kim Pham.
Pham, 23, died after being taken off life support several days after the attack, which occurred in the early hours of Jan. 18 outside The Crosby, a trendy bar in downtown Santa Ana.
Defense attorneys for the two women told jurors in opening statements that their clients’ actions that night were in self-defense.
“You’re allowed to hit a person back when they hit you. It’s as simple as that,” said Zavala’s lawyer, Kenneth Reed.
Both women have pleaded not guilty to murder and to a related count of assault.
“Who threw the first punch? We don’t know. But in all likelihood, it was the victim. She was mad, felt disrespected, and she was angry. Most will say the victim was the aggressor,” prosecutor Troy Pino said.
Pino said that while Pham might have thrown the first punch, it didn’t excuse the blows to the head that she received as the confrontation escalated, particularly when she was on the ground and struggling.
Pino conceded that the video might be difficult to follow but that eyewitnesses he will call to testify can fill in the gaps, proving Brito and Zavala’s guilt.
At the preliminary hearing earlier this year, witnesses testified that Pham and her group of 11 friends were waiting in line to get into the club as Brito, Zavala and several of their friends were leaving.
At some point, the groups bumped into each other.
One witness told authorities that Pham started swearing and threw the first punch. But Pham’s friends told police the three women in the other group attacked Pham without provocation after they bumped into her.
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 own involvement.
Brito’s attorney Michael Molfetta called the death a tragedy that occurred because of Pham’s actions, saying: “She didn’t deserve to die, but the fact of the matter is she died because she took umbrage after a bump.”
A forensic pathologist who conducted Pham’s autopsy ruled the cause of death was blunt-force injury to the head but said it was impossible to tell whether one specific blow caused the fatal brain bleeding or if it came from a combination of blows.
Pham, who went by the first name Kim, graduated from Chapman University last year and would have celebrated her first wedding anniversary earlier this year.
She was an aspiring writer whose work was published online and in an anthology of works by Vietnamese-American writers.
(TM and ©Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)