Detective: Witness says slain woman attacked first

Associated Press
Candace Marie Brito, left, and co-defendant Vanesa Zavala sit in court during their preliminary hearing at the West Justice Center in Westminster, Calif. Monday Feb. 10, 2014. Brito and Zavala are facing charges in the beating death of Kim Pham in front of a Santa Ana nightclub. (AP PHOTO/LOS ANGELES TIMES, Mark Boster, Pool )
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WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) — A 23-year-old woman who was beaten to death outside a Southern California nightclub was kicked in the head at least twice, according to witnesses, after she fell to the ground as she scuffled with another woman.

Just who started the fight that led to Annie Hung Kim Pham's death was in dispute during the first day of testimony at a pretrial hearing to determine whether two women should stand trial on murder charges. Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito have pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, police continued to investigate what role a third woman they have named as a person of interest may have played in the fight outside The Crosby Nightclub in Santa Ana in the early morning hours of Jan. 18.

When the hearing resumes Tuesday, Santa Ana police Detective Patricia Navarro was expected to return to the witness stand.

Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris halted Navarro's testimony Monday and met briefly with attorneys after the detective revealed she entered a jail undercover and wore a wire as she attempted to get Zavala to talk about the case after Zavala had asked for an attorney.

A witness told authorities the fight began after Pham started swearing at a group of people she and her friends had bumped into outside a club and that Pham threw the first punch. Pham's friends say three women in the other group attacked Pham without provocation.

Detective Matthew Mcleod testified Monday that a witness who recorded the scuffle on a cellphone told police that Brito kicked Pham in the head after she and another woman fell to the ground as they punched one another and pulled each other's hair.

Zavala also kicked Pham, the detective testified, causing her to go limp and lose consciousness. She was taken off life support after the beating, and the coroner listed her cause of death as blunt force injury to the head.

Brito and Zavala were arrested after they were picked out of a photo lineup.

Defense attorneys said Monday it was the third woman still being investigated who was fighting with Pham.

Kenneth Reed, an attorney for Zavala, introduced the idea that Pham's friends might have minimized their involvement and Pham's role in the fight.

"You just kind of took the story — 'She got beat' — and you just kind of took the statements of these friends of hers?" Reed asked. "Fighting means fighting, more than one person fighting, right?"

Pham, who went by the first name Kim, graduated from Chapman University last year and would have celebrated her first wedding anniversary last month. She was an aspiring writer whose work was published online and in an anthology of works by Vietnamese-American writers.

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