SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — Two women wept quietly as they were told in a Santa Ana courtroom Thursday they’d been found guilty of beating a 23-year-old woman to death outside a nightclub.
Candace Marie Brito, 27, and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 26, were convicted of voluntary manslaughter for their role in a Jan. 19 melee outside the Crosby Bar and Nightclub. Jurors also found Brito and Zavala guilty of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
The family of Kim Pham said they felt sorry for the attackers’ families but happy that Brito and Zavala were punished.
“We think it’s a fair judgment,” Pham’s brother Ken Nguyen said. “We feel for their families, too. We don’t want it to be unfair. But in order to prevent future crimes we want the judgment, the sentencing to be correct.”
Sentencing was set for Sept. 12. Both women face up to 11 years in state prison. They are also eligible for probation, but attorneys on both sides said they don’t see that as a likely punishment.
Pham got into a fistfight with another woman, identified by defense attorneys as Emilia Calderon, before falling to the ground and being surrounded by Calderon’s friends.
When officers arrived they found Pham, who appeared unconscious, on the sidewalk.
Pham was declared brain dead when she arrived at a hospital and was disconnected from life support two days later, after her organs were harvested.
Etoi Davenport, who performed the autopsy on Pham, testified during the trial that she sustained six major blows to the head, and any one of them could have killed her.
Prosecutors relied on witness accounts and two cellphone videos during the trial to argue the defendants kicked her in the head.
Attorneys for Brito and Zavala countered that the videos were inconclusive and couldn’t prove whether Pham suffered fatal injuries from the fistfight with Calderon or after she fell to the ground.
Zavala’s attorney, Kenneth Reed, told jurors that prosecutors failed to prove a cause of death in the case, making acquittal necessary. Reed also argued that the victim was also punched by other people, which could have caused her death, and said his client did not kick Pham.
Both sides agreed the manslaughter conviction was fair.
“This is what this was; it was a manslaughter. These girls never had the intent to kill,” Brito’s defense attorney Michael Molfetta said.
Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino pushed for a second-degree murder conviction, which could have sent the women away for life. A manslaughter conviction carries a sentence of either three, six or 11 years in prison.
Pino choked back tears while talking about the case.
“I think the lesson is when you’re out drinking have a good time, don’t get offended, walk away, just walk away. When things escalate, just walk away,” Pino said. “You have one young woman who’s dead. And you have two young women who’ve been convicted of a homicide. Nobody wins. Nobody wins.”
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