Defense attorney says beating victim Kim Pham may have thrown first punch outside Santa Ana club

Pham beaten to death; Vanesa Zavala charged

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Autopsy results show a 23-year-old woman beaten outside a Santa Ana nightclub over the weekend died from complications related to head injuries, police said.

Annie Hung "Kim" Pham's official cause of death was listed as complications related to blunt force trauma to the head, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

Investigators were withholding further details of the victim's injuries, Bertagna said.

Police, meanwhile, continue to look for four suspects -- two women and two men.

One suspect -- 25-year-old Vanesa Tapia Zavala -- pleaded not guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder. Zavala, in custody on $1 million bail, was due in court Jan. 30 for a pretrial hearing.

Pham was beaten about 12:20 a.m. Saturday outside the Crosby Bar and Nightclub at 400 N. Broadway, police said.

She was declared brain dead Sunday, but was kept on life support so her organs could be harvested. She was taken off life support Tuesday and died about midday, authorities said.

Pham was waiting to get into the nightclub with friends when an argument started with another group of patrons, escalating into a fight, according to police.

Defense attorney Michael Molfetta, who represents someone involved in the struggle, said Pham may have thrown the first punch.

"That person will either turn out to be a defendant or a witness," Molfetta said of his client.

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

Pham may have not meant to hit Zavala, but the punch landed on the defendant, triggering the melee, Molfetta said.

"It was not the case that (Pham's) just standing in line and Zavala's group of people just attack. That's not what happened," Molfetta said.

Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino declined to comment on the possible motive for the beating, but he said there is no evidence to suggest it was racially motivated.

Zavala's attorney, Kenneth Reed, told reporters after his client's arraignment Wednesday that Zavala was knocked down during the melee, and he also doubted reports that Pham was a victim of a beat down.

"I refuse to believe that people of this community would watch a woman stomped to death by five people and nobody would do anything," Reed said. The lawyer characterized it as "a melee, a bunch of people fighting."

Zavala lost her phone in the brawl, and it was recovered later by police, according to Reed, who said she is "devastated" by the violence.

"Your day is fine, your life is fine, you have a 5-year-old son, you go out one night on a Friday with your boyfriend and then your life is turned upside down and you find out someone is killed," Reed said. "No matter what the situation is, you're going to be devastated."

Patrol officers called to the scene found Pham unconscious on the sidewalk.

Pham graduated from Chapman University last year with a psychology degree and had worked to raise money for breast cancer awareness, the Orange County Register reported.

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.

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

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