Vanesa Zavala Pleads Not Guilty to Murdering Kim Pham; Attorney Says Pham Threw First Punch

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
January 24, 2014 Updated: January 24, 2014

Vanesa Tapia Zavala, who has been charged with murder after Kim Pham died outside a night club in Santa Ana, California over the weekend, pled not guilty in her first court appearance.

Zavala was allegedly part of a group of five that got into an altercation with Pham and her friends outside the Crosby Bar and Nightclub off North Broadway just after midnight on Saturday morning.

The beating that ensued left Pham brain dead. Her family took her off life support on Tuesday after her organs were donated.

Cell phone video of the fight surfaced and has been a key tool in the police investigation into the case.

The four other suspects–two women and two men–haven’t been caught yet.

Zavala’s attorney, Kenneth Reed, said that Zavala was knocked down during the melee and that he doesn’t think Pham was beat by five people.

“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, reported 10News. The lawyer characterized it as “a melee, a bunch of people fighting.”

Zavala, 25, is “devastated” by what happened, Reed said.

“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.”

Police officers called to the scene found Pham, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Chapman University, unconscious on the sidewalk.

Friends said that Pham may have been targeted because she accidentally got into a picture someone was taking.

Michael Molfetta, who is representing one of the four suspects who haven’t been caught, also said that the story told by police isn’t quite true. 

“My understanding is that Pham threw the first punch, which landed on the face of Vanesa Zavala,” Molfetta told the LA Times. “From there the thing escalated very quickly, very violently, and there were a number of people in line with Ms. Pham that attacked the people that Ms. Zavala was with.”

He said that the fight started after one of Zavala’s friends accidentally bumped into Pham.

He also stood by Zavala, disputing the account that she helped murder Pham.

“Nationally, Ms. Zavala has been vilified and the poor lady that died has basically become a saint,” Molfetta said. “I’m sure she was a lovely woman and had a great future ahead of her, but Ms. Zavala is a good woman too.”

Zavala is being held on $1 million bail. She faces 15 years to life in prison if she is found guilty.

There is a $5,000 reward being offered for information leading to the arrest of other suspects.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.