A day after being handed the case, a jury on Thursday found two women guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder in the death a 23-year-old Huntington Beach woman who collapsed after a fight outside a Santa Ana nightclub in January.
Kim Pham died three days after she was taken from the scene of a melee that was caught on cellphone videos in front of The Crosby nightclub.
Her death generated intense interest nationally, partly because it initially appeared incorrectly that no one tried to stop the fight or come to the aid of the recent Chapman University graduate as she lay on the ground, unconscious.
Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 26, were each charged with one felony count of murder and one count of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury in Pham’s death.
The Santa Ana Superior Court trial of the two office workers began July 9. Jurors were handed the case 2 p.m. Wednesday.
They found Brito and Zavala guilty of voluntary manslaughter but acquitted them of the murder charge. The defendants were also found guilty of the assault charge.
“We think it’s a fair judgment. We feel for their families too,” said a representative for the Pham family.
Brito cried as the verdict was read, while Zavala’s face was hidden by her hair.
After the defendants were lead away, prosecutor Troy Pino became emotional when saying the lesson of the case should be to just “walk away” when things escalate while drinking.
“Don’t get offended, walk away. Just walk away. … You have one young woman who is dead,” Pino said, tearing up. “And two young women who have been convicted of a homicide. Nobody wins.”
Outside the courtroom, Brito’s attorney said the verdict was what he expected. The defendants, lawyer Michael Molfetta said, had not meant to kill Pham.
“A jury is not going to walk away and acquit my client when you have a dead girl on the sidewalk,” Molfetta said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
The two women had faced 15 years to life in state prison if convicted as originally charged. With the manslaughter conviction, they instead face up to 11 years in prison, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Testimony on both sides revealed that Pham threw the first punch, escalating a verbal argument that began when a friend who was with Brito and Zavala bumped into Pham’s group.
Pham began fighting with the friend and Brito and Zavala in turn allegedly assaulted Pham.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office referred to the fight as “mutual combat.”
Brito testified Monday that she had aimed to kick Pham in the back, not the head, and was trying to defend her friend, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Witnesses who said they viewed video showing Pham being kicked in the head were barred from testifying by the judge in the case after the video could not be found, the Times reported.
A police detective testified investigators “couldn’t track down the video because they initially believed they already had it,” the Times reported.
Pino argued that both defendants kicked Pham in the head while she was already on the ground, causing her death, the Times reported. Zavala was accused of the final blow to Pham’s head.
But a medical expert testified that it was impossible to determine if one specific blow killed Pham or if a combination of hits left her mortally injured.
Molfetta and Zavala’s attorney Kenneth Reed argued their clients were acting in self defense.
Sentencing was set for Sept. 12.