As family and friends gathered to remember a 23-year-old woman lost to street violence, another young woman appeared in a nearby courthouse Tuesday to declare her innocence in a predawn beating outside a Santa Ana nightclub that left the recent college graduate dead.
Candace Marie Brito is the second woman charged in the beating death of Kim Pham, of Huntington Beach, who was out with friends when an altercation erupted with another group of nightclub patrons. A woman was previously charged in the case, and authorities continue to seek a third, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The case has drawn national attention, in part because the victim has been steadily portrayed as a high-achieving, compassionate woman who threw herself into causes and only ended up at the trendy downtown nightclub because she was coaxed out for the night by friends.
"Simply put, she was at the wrong place, wrong time," Bao Trung Nguyen said during memorial services for his cousin. "I prayed that she would survive."
On Tuesday, Brito's attorney tried to temper the storyline by saying that his client was also a good, hard-working woman who had spent the night out with friends, only to be knocked to the ground during the Jan. 18 melee.
"Ms. Pham has been anointed a saint," said Michael Molfetta, Brito's attorney. In contrast, he said, his client has been "vilified internationally."
"She's a good person," Molfetta said. "If she's the one that ended up dying that night, you guys would've anointed her a saint. She's a bright young lady with a bright future ahead of her."
Brito, 27, of Santa Ana, faces one felony count of murder and is being held on $1-million bail. Vanesa Tapia Zavala, a 25-year-old Santa Ana mother, pleaded not guilty to identical charges last week and is also being held on $1-million bail.
Brito's friends and family attended the arraignment at the Santa Ana Central Jail, squeezing behind a podium when her case was called so she could see them through a video feed.
They declined to comment.
Brito is one of three women suspected of participating in the melee, which has prompted Santa Ana civic leaders to defend the city's historic downtown as a safe destination for visitors.
Molfetta said he reviewed one of the videos of the fight, recorded on cellphones by bystanders, and said it was hard to tell who was doing what.
"Unless [filmmaker Francis Ford] Coppola was out there, they're all the same quality and all pretty much show the same thing," Molfetta said. "Which is something happened but who it was is not very clear at all and last time I checked we're in the business of who it was and what they did."
Community leaders expressed anger after seeing the video because it appeared that some people in the crowd shot video, took photos or simply watched the altercation rather than coming to Pham's aid.
"To all of you, frankly, I say 'Shame on you,' " Molfetta said. "This young lady died tragically, died unnecessarily."
On Tuesday morning, hundreds of people poured into the memorial Mass in Westminster and a cremation service in Anaheim that followed. Pallbearers — led by Pham's husband, Giang Ngo — carried the casket past grieving relatives. Pham's father, Dung Pham, walked ahead of the procession, clutching a bouquet of ivory-colored flowers
He said he was touched by the generosity of friends and strangers.
Several people volunteered to videotape Pham's memorial service as a keepsake. Others offered to provide grief counseling to the family. Pham's co-workers at Ink Press, a printing business in Garden Grove, said they would donate proceeds to help cover funeral costs. And Access Media, the publisher behind "A Melting Pot of Thoughts," an anthology that published Pham's essays, plans a tribute event for her.
"We focus on forgiveness," said Tram Doan, Pham's stepmother. "Everyone's life has value."