WESTMINSTER, Calif. - Two women were ordered Tuesday to stand trial on a murder charge stemming from the beating death of a woman during a melee outside a Santa Ana nightclub.
Vanesa Tapia Zavala, 25, and Candace Marie Brito, 27, both of Santa Ana, are accused in the Jan. 19 beating of 23-year-old Annie Hung "Kim" Pham outside The Crosby Bar and Nightclub, 404 N. Broadway. Pham was taken off life support and died two days later.
Zavala and Brito are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 21.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris found sufficient evidence for the women to stand trial, despite arguments by defense attorneys that police rushed to judgment and had not yet interviewed a third "person of interest" in the case.
Attorney Michael Molfetta contended the lead investigator on the case, Santa Ana police Detective Leo Rodriguez, had not taken adequate steps to contact the remaining person of interest, who was identified in court as Amelia Avila. He sarcastically suggested that Rodriguez use the State Bar website to find her attorney and chided him for trying to find her at home in the middle of the day.
Borris' ruling came at the end of an eventful two-day preliminary hearing that was briefly halted Monday when Detective Patricia Navarro testified that she wore a wire and posed as a jail inmate to get Zavala to discuss the attack.
After the revelation, Borris met with attorneys privately and sent Navarro home for the day. In court Tuesday, both sides stipulated that when Navarro was undercover in the jail, Zavala told her only that Pham hit her first and she was defending herself.
Rodriguez testified Monday 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 -- Avila -- 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.
In her testimony, Navarro said a witness saw 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 -- Avila -- who is still being sought, according to Navarro.
"She (Zavala) stands, quote, 'Trying to get her hits in,' unquote," Navarro said of the witness' statement.
The witness, who did not know Pham, told investigators he saw the women arguing with Pham before a "female Hispanic" punched Pham 10 times, Navarro testified. Pham fell to the ground attempting to punch back, she added.