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Detective: Witness says slain woman attacked first

  • Marisol Meza, Ruben Mata and Tony Galvan, from left, stopped to look at a street-side memorial for Kim Pham on Jan. 20. Pham died after she was stomped into unconsciousness outside the The Crosby on N. Broadway Street in the early morning hours of Jan. 18 in Santa Ana, Calif. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Christine Cotter)

WESTMINSTER, Calif. » A witness told authorities that a 23-year-old woman who died after being beaten outside a Southern California nightclub instigated the fight by shouting obscenities and throwing the first punch after she and her friends bumped into another group exiting the trendy bar, a police detective testified Monday.

According to one witness, Annie Hung Kim Pham began swearing and was restrained by friends as the other group walked away, Santa Ana police Detective Roland Andrade said at a preliminary hearing to determine whether two women should stand trial in the case. When the opposing group of two men and three women returned, Pham threw the first punch, Andrade quoted the eyewitness as saying.

The account differs dramatically from that of Pham’s friends, who told police that three women assaulted Pham, 23, without provocation after the two groups bumped into each other outside The Crosby nightclub in Santa Ana in the early morning hours of Jan. 18.

The hearing will resume Tuesday for Vanesa Zavala and Candace Brito, who have pleaded not guilty to murder.

Police are still investigating a third woman as a person of interest and have reviewed three cellphone videos of the fight.

Defense attorneys said Monday that the third, unidentified woman was actually the person who began fighting with Pham.

It was only after the two fell to the ground, pulling each other’s hair and punching, that Brito, who was the unidentified woman’s friend, kicked Pham in the head, Detective Matthew Mcleod said on the stand, summarizing the testimony of an eyewitness who also shot cellphone video.

Zavala then also kicked at Pham, after which Pham went limp and lost consciousness, he said.

Both women were picked out of a police photo lineup.

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 said. "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.

Pham was taken off life support after the beating. The coroner listed Pham’s cause of death as blunt force injury of the head.

She had bleeding in her brain, two blackened eyes and contusions behind her left ear and on the right side of her head, said Dr. Etoi Davenport, a coroner’s forensic pathologist.

Also Monday, the judge halted testimony from a police detective after she said she wore a wire and went undercover as a female inmate to get Zavala to talk even though Zavala had already asked for an attorney.

Detective Patricia Navarro was ordered back to court Tuesday. It wasn’t immediately clear what the judge will do with her existing testimony.

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