Women Convicted in Nightclub Brawl Death

Women Convicted in Nightclub Brawl Death

The Orange County Register reports that on Thursday two women, Candace Marie Brito and Vanesa Tapia Zavala, were sentenced to up to 11 years in jail for beating another young woman to death outside a Santa Ana nightclub. 

The charges against the two women were voluntary manslaughter and assault. The jury rejected second-degree murder charges.

The incident, which went viral across the country because bystanders taped it on their cellphones, occurred on January 18. Brito and Zavala’s group was leaving the Crosby in downtown Santa Ana. One of the women in their group, Emelia Calderon, bumped into someone in a group that included Annie Kim Pham, 23. Calderon and Pham started cursing at each other, and witnesses said Pham threw a punch, precipitating a brawl.

Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino, the prosecutor in the case, asserted in his closing argument to the jury that overwhelming evidence showed both Brito and Zavala kicking Pham in the head while she and Calderon were struggling on the ground. Pino pointed out that at the time she was being kicked, Pham was not a threat to anyone’s life, and called the kicks “cheap shots.” He allowed that Pham had thrown the first punch, but added, “It doesn’t matter who started it.”

Pino was satisfied with the jury’s verdict, saying that the result was somewhere between the plaintiff’s desire for maximum convictions and the defense’s goal of letting the women go free. He said, “They found something in between. It’s not unreasonable.”

Michael Molfetta, Brito’s attorney, noted that Brito and Zavala were in tears after the verdict but added that if they had been guilty of second-degree murder, they could have spent life in prison. He said, “At most it’s manslaughter; that’s what I always said. These girls didn’t intend to kill anybody; that’s the difference. It was not a murder. It should never have been filed as murder.”

Ken Nguyen, Pham’s stepbrother, simply said, “We think it’s fair justice. We feel for their family, too.”