Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Murder in Nightclub Beating; Reward Doubles

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A 25-year-old woman appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in the death of Kim Pham, who was fatally beaten outside a nightclub in Santa Ana.


A poster left at the scene where Kim Pham was fatally beaten in Santa Ana asks for help on Jan. 18, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Vanesa Tapia Zavala, who appeared at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, was charged with one felony murder count, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

She was ordered held on $1 million bail. Her next court hearing was set for Jan. 30.

Pham was beaten early Jan. 18 outside The Crosby, a nightclub in the 400 block of North Broadway in downtown Santa Ana, authorities said.

Pham was with friends, waiting to get inside The Crosby when an argument broke out with another group of people, police said.

“The victim was kicked about her body and her head, and that’s when she went unconscious,” said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, a spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department.

She died at 12:36 p.m. Tuesday after being taken off life support, police said.


Vanesa Zavala appeared in court in Santa Ana on Jan. 22, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Zavala, who had not been named until the DA’s office sent a notice of her arraignment, was one of five people being sought in the beating, according to police.

Her attorney, Kenneth Reed, told reporters his client was innocent, but he acknowledged Zavala was outside the nightclub, where he said she was “hit and knocked down.” He said he didn’t know who hit her.

The Santa Ana City Council on Tuesday evening approved a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the “outstanding suspects,” according to a city news release. A business coalition called Downtown Inc. was also offering a $5,000 reward.

Zavala faces up to 15 years in state prison if convicted, according to the DA’s office.

Reed said Zavala had a 5-year-old child.

A friend of Pham told the Los Angeles Times that the argument began when Pham accidentally walked into the frame of a photo that the attackers were posing for. One of the attackers’ cellphones was recovered from the scene, the friend told the newspaper.

Anyone with information about the beating was asked to call Santa Ana police detectives at 714-245-8390 or Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-847-6227 (855-TIP-OCCS).

KTLA’s Chip Yost contributed to this article.