SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two women convicted of voluntary manslaughter for kicking another woman to death in a brawl outside a popular bar cried softly Friday as a judge sentenced them to six years each in state prison and angrily asked why no one had walked away from the fight before it turned deadly.
Candace Brito, 27, and Vanesa Zavala, 26, were also ordered to pay $5,000 each in fines and a combined $3,500 in funeral costs to the family of 23-year-old Annie Kim Pham, an aspiring writer and newlywed who was taken off life support and died two days after the fight earlier this year.
Family members of both the two defendants and Pham fought back tears as Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals said the case was a horrible tragedy for all involved. He also decried bystanders who shot cell phone video of the January fight but did not intervene. The footage was key evidence at trial.
"Why didn't you two walk away? You're not gang members. You're not fighters. You had been essentially law-abiding, nice young women," the judge said, raising his voice. "And yet ... you were all in the fight up to your elbows. If any of you had just swallowed your pride and walked away none of us would be sitting here."
Brito and Zavala had been charged with second-degree murder, which would have carried a possible life term, but a jury in July opted for the lesser manslaughter conviction. The two faced a minimum of three years and a maximum of 11 years in prison at Friday's sentencing.
Katie Nguyen, Pham's stepsister, recalled holding Pham's hand as she lay in a coma in the hospital. Pham's family later donated her organs according to her wishes.
"I remember crying so much my eyes were unable to produce any more tears," Nguyen said. "She needed to grow old, have kids and see me get married — but that would not happen."
Brito said she prays each day to Pham, asking for forgiveness, and Zavala — who has a 4-year-old son — said as a parent herself she can't imagine Pham's father's pain.
"I will live with this for the rest of my life. I know that you will never forget this, but I hope someday you can forgive," Brito said shortly before the sentence was read.
According to trial testimony, the fight began as Pham and her friends waited in line to get into a hotspot in downtown Santa Ana called The Crobsy. Brito, Zavala and their friends were leaving the bar and the two groups bumped into one another.
According to testimony, Pham and Emilia Calderon, a friend of Brito and Zavala's, exchanged words and then Pham swore and threw the first punch, starting a fight that quickly turned into a chaotic melee involving dozens of people. As Pham and Calderon wrestled on the sidewalk, prosecutors said Brito and Zavala kicked her in the head.
Calderon was not charged in the case.
Zavala's attorney, Kenneth Reed, argued that his client didn't kick Pham and that punches from other people might have killed her.
Brito's attorney, Michael Molfetta, argued his client reacted in self-defense because she thought her friend was in danger.
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