SANTA ANA, Calif. – A 25-year-old mother charged with beating a woman to death outside of an Orange County nightclub pleaded not guilty to murder on Wednesday.
Her attorney said she was a victim of a brawl — not a killer.
Vanesa Zavala of Santa Ana stood with eyes downcast and hands clasped in front of her as her lawyer entered the plea in Superior Court.
Zavala was ordered held on $1 million bail. She could face 15 years to life in state prison if convicted of murder.
Prosecutors contend that she was among five people who beat and stomped Annie Hung "Kim" Pham in front of The Crosby nightclub during an argument shortly before 12:30 a.m. Saturday. The attack was partially captured on cellphone video.
Pham, 23, of Westminster, was left unconscious on the sidewalk. She was placed on life support until her organs could be donated. Pham was removed from life support and declared dead on Tuesday.
"It's tragic that someone died, no question about that, but my client didn't kill her, and facts will bear that out," Zavala's attorney, Ken Reed, said outside court.
"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."
Reed said that Zavala was knocked down, got a bump on the head and lost her cellphone (later recovered by police) during what he characterized as "a melee" rather than a single attack.
"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.
Authorities haven't released information on a motive for the attack, but police are seeking two other women and two men.
A business association and the City Council have offered a total of $10,000 in rewards for information leading to additional arrests.