AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Mark Rightmire
Published Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 5 p.m.
Updated Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 8:37 p.m.
SANTA ANA, Calif. — Two women were convicted Thursday of kicking a third woman to death during a fight outside a Santa Ana nightclub.
Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 26, were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury for the January attack outside The Crosby in Santa Ana.
Prosecutors said the women kicked Annie Kim Pham in the head while she was on the ground during a fight. Pham, 23, died after being taken off life support two days after the attack.
Superior Court jurors chose to convict the women of the lesser charge instead of second-degree murder, which carried a potential life sentence. Each now faces a sentence of up to 11 years in state prison.
"I told (Brito), 'You don't know this yet, but you won. One day when you get out, sooner rather than later, you'll realize you could have spent the rest of your life in jail,'" her attorney, Michael Molfetta, said after the hearing.
Molfetta said his client and Zavala never intended to kill anyone and should never have faced murder charges.
A forensic pathologist who conducted Pham's autopsy ruled the cause of death was blunt force injury to the head but said it was impossible to tell whether one specific blow or even a combination of blows caused the fatal brain bleeding.
During the trial, Etoi Davenport testified that Pham could have died as a result of being punched or kicked, or from hitting her head on the sidewalk. The pathologist said Pham received six major blows to the head.
Pham's stepbrother, Ken Nguyen, said the family was satisfied with the verdicts.
"We feel for their families, too," Nguyen said of Brito and Zavala.
At a preliminary hearing, witnesses testified that Pham and her group of 11 friends were waiting in line to get into the club as Brito, Zavala and several of their friends were exiting. At some point, the groups bumped into each other.
One witness told authorities that Pham started swearing and threw the first punch. Pham's friends told police the three women in the other group attacked Pham without provocation.
Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino said Pham threw the first punch but the kicks to Pham were "cheap shots" taken while she was not a threat.
Jurors were shown cellphone videos of the beating.
Molfetta told jurors that Pham started a fistfight with another woman, Emilia Calderon. He said it wasn't proven that his client — a friend of Calderon's — kicked Pham during scuffling involving several people.
Zavala's attorney, Kenneth Reed, argued that his client didn't kick Pham and that punches from other people might have killed her.