Candace Marie Brito charged in beating death of Kim Pham outside Santa Ana nightclub

Brito pleads not guilty to second-degree murder

SANTA ANA, Calif. - The second woman to be charged in the fatal beating of a woman outside a Santa Ana nightclub pleaded not guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder, while the victim was eulogized at Blessed Sacrament Church in Westminster.

Bail was set at $1 million for Candace Marie Brito, 27, of Santa Ana. She is charged in the death of 23-year-old Annie Hung "Kim" Pham, who was attacked about 12:20 a.m. Jan. 19 while waiting to get into the Crosby Bar and Nightclub at 400 N. Broadway.

Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino said reports that no one in the crowd outside of the club tried to help the victim were "completely inaccurate."

"There were plenty of people trying to break up this altercation," Pino said, adding the victim's friends tried to intervene, as well.

In a related development, Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen appealed to the public, particularly the local Vietnamese community, to step forward with information about the beating.

"I'm asking for anybody who was there that night to come out. You're the witness and we need your help," Nguyen said.

The supervisor said residents of Vietnamese descent are typically reluctant to cooperate with authorities for fear of becoming targets of an investigation.

"I understand coming out as a witness is not something we do, but we need you to bring justice to Kim's family," Nguyen said. "You're a witness, you won't be prosecuted."

Santa Ana police Chief Carlos Rojas on Friday provided a photo of another woman wanted in connection with the beating, although he said police did not know her name.

"We're trying to track her down and see what her story is," Rojas said, adding, "She's a person of interest."

Brito was arrested Friday. A second suspect, 25-year-old Vanesa Tapia Zavala, pleaded not guilty last week to a second-degree murder charge and is jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.

Brito's attorney, Michael Molfetta, told reporters that his client "maintains she was innocent and had nothing to do with any physical altercation with Annie Pham."

Brito was at the club that night, "but to the extent she was knocked to the ground, you can say she was involved," Molfetta said. "If the video is the centerpiece of their case, that dog won't hunt. The video doesn't tell us anything."

Santa Ana's police chief said last week that Zavala was with a group of people leaving the club when a "verbal and physical altercation" occurred. Rojas said police have determined that only three women were involved in the attack on Pham, despite earlier reports that five people were being sought.

An unrelated fight between several men broke out "almost simultaneously," adding to a "very chaotic" scene, Rojas said.

There were about 50 people outside the club before the brawl, Rojas said. Three security guards were on duty and at least one is seen in the video trying "to separate people," the chief said.

Police have three videos from different angles, Rojas said. Some of the video has audio, he added.

Molfetta said that one group was leaving the club and another group was entering when there was an "inadvertent bump" that touched off the fracas.

Rojas said he believes his investigators have a "strong" case against the two women in custody.

"For us, it's clear enough that we have a strong enough case to book them for homicide," he said.

Rojas and Pino said there was no evidence to suggest the confrontation was motivated by gangs or racial animosity.

Autopsy results released last Thursday showed that Pham died of complications related to blunt force trauma to the head.

Pham graduated from Chapman University last year with a psychology degree and had worked to raise money for breast cancer awareness.

Downtown Inc., a coalition of Santa Ana businesses, offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the attackers. The city matched the reward, bumping it up to $10,000, and Orange County Crime Stoppers added another $1,000, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido said.

Anyone with more information or video of the brawl was asked to call police at 714-245-8390.

Print this article Back to Top