Norma Patricia Esparza, Respected Professor, Faces Trial for Killing Man She Says Raped Her

Categories: Court, Crime-iny

norma-patricia-esparza.jpg
Norma Patricia Esparza came to Santa Ana as a small child with her family from Mexico. She later received a scholarship to attend the elite Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and then Pomona College. She went on to work with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, before joining the faculty of a university there as a psychology professor. Esparza was living in a French town near Geneva with her husband, renowned medical researcher Jorge Mancillas, and their 4-year-old daughter in 2012 when she came back to the U.S. to attend a conference. She probably wishes now she'd stayed home, because Wednesday the 39-year-old added a title that probably won't be included in her curriculum vitae: murder defendant.

Her case has been an international sensation since her arrest at the airport in Boston for a cold-case murder in Orange County. While free on bail, Esparza had been cooperating with local prosecutors, claiming she had been raped by Gonzalo Ramirez before the 25-year-old was plucked off a street in Santa Ana, brutally beaten, stabbed and hacked with a meat cleaver. His lifeless body was dumped in Irvine on April 16, 1995.

Esparza rejected an Orange County District Attorney's office plea-bargain offer that would have had her admitting to a manslaughter charge and accepting a three-year jail sentence. Her bail was then revoked, and she was charged with murder. Asked last year by a City News Service reporter why she did not take the deal, Esparza replied, "My level of responsibility is not that. I just don't feel that's what I'm responsible for."

She pleaded not guilty to murder, but a judge Wednesday ruled there is enough evidence for her to stand trial. A conviction could send her to prison for life.

Esparza claims to have been sexually abused by a relative starting when she was 5 and continuing until she was 12. She says she has been fearful of--and easily influenced by--men ever since.

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The late Gonzalo Ramirez
She was home in Santa Ana from Pomona College for a weekend in March 1995 when she went with her sister to the El Cortez nightclub, where she met and befriended Ramirez. He invited her to breakfast with his sister the next morning and then offered to drive her back to Pomona College in Claremont.

Esparza claims that while they were alone in her dorm room, Ramirez raped her. She says she later went to a school nurse who gave her a pill to prevent pregnancy. But the rape, which Esparza says still haunts her to this day, was not reported to authorities. She recently explained she felt ashamed and didn't want her family to know. But a few weeks after the alleged attack, she told her then-boyfriend, Gianni Van, who blew up and complained she should have done more to stop Ramirez.

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Gianni Van
She claims Van forced her and a friend to go back to El Cortez on two occasions to look for Ramirez. The morning before his abduction, Esparza pointed him out to Van and his friends Shannon Ray Gries and Kody Tran, according to prosecutors.

Hours later, just before 1 a.m., Ramirez and a male friend left El Cortez and drove north on Lyon Street when a 1980s-model Chevrolet van rear-ended their car at a stop light at Chestnut Avenue, according to police and prosecutors. Ramirez and a man in the van got out of their respective vehicles, with the stranger punching Ramirez and knocking him down. A second man got out of the van to warn he had a weapon. The friend of Ramirez ran off to get help from a security guard, but when they returned to the scene, everyone--Ramirez included--were gone.

Prosecutors claim Van, Gries and Kody Tran abducted Ramirez and took him to an auto body shop owned by Diane Tran, Kody's wife, where the victim was tortured. Esparza later claimed members of the group took her there but that she did not witness the murder.

"He looked up. He was moving. He had blood on his torso," she said of Ramirez to the Pasadena Star News. "He said, 'I don't know you little girl.' I just screamed and ran down the stairs. I thought, 'Why did they bring me here? Oh my goodness am I going to be killed? Why did they force me to see this guy?' And, at the point I realized this was meant to be a punishment for me."

Ramirez's body was found by Irvine Police later that morning at the side of Sand Canyon Road.

Esparza would go on to graduate from Pomona College and earn her doctorate. She was arrested in 1996 in connection with Ramirez's death, but prosecutors declined to press charges when she married Van in Las Vegas and could not be compelled to testify against him. She called the marriage another example of men controlling her; she divorced Van in 2006. And when she was still cooperating with prosecutors, she had agreed to testify against Van, the Trans and Gries, according to the DA's office.

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Shannon Ray Gries
Her tune has changed, according to what Esparza told the Star News: "I've been victimized a number of times in my life and now I'm being victimized as a way for a prosecutor to build a career."

"She's a very sophisticated defendant," Susan Kang Schroeder, the DA's chief of staff, told the same newspaper. "She has a Ph.D in psychology and she knows how to play on people's emotions, including the use of her 4-year-old daughter as a prop at the press conference. This is a woman who is trying to act like the victim in this case when the real victim was brutally murdered and the case went unsolved for 20 years."


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30 comments
Hip Ngau
Hip Ngau

Who knows what if the prosecutor is also a Hispanic, then what is the argument then,....? What a foolish assumption!

Judy Osborn
Judy Osborn

Bonni Bogard is rather dim witted. Her statement the DA is prosecuting Esparza because they are jealous of her being a successful Hispanic woman confirms this.

Judy Osborn
Judy Osborn

Again read Bonni. Diane Tran gave testimony to Police that Esparza planned the kidnaping and the murder along with the group from the onset. Thus she was held over for trial this week. In 2010 Santa Ana detectives, Dean Fulcher and Frank Fajardo, opened up the cold case. Esparza got an attorney, Leonard Weinglass, who advised her not to cooperate. He contacted police on her behalf and told Police to stop contacting her As a result she was arrested when she entered the US in 2012. You are a low information person, the type who would make a stupid statement that the DA is pursuing her out of jealousy

Bonni Bogard
Bonni Bogard

Actually it's you who can't read. She didn't avoid, she worked with them. You're assuming the rape didn't occur. You're also assuming she conspired in the kidnapping...you're making a lot of assumptions. The only assumption that matters is innocent until proven guilty. The article has the prosecutor staying how smart this woman is and she's manipulating everyone. The prosecutor is going to use that excuse for everything this woman offers as a defense. Rather than facts she's going to just use that excuse...the woman is smart, she's manipulating. It's already worked...your were naive enough to buy it.

Judy Osborn
Judy Osborn

Your underlying assumption is that the rape occurred. She could be nut job who tried to get her boyfriend back through jealousy. The possibilities are endless.

Judy Osborn
Judy Osborn

Either you cant read Bonnie or you have low retention, She did not cooperate. She's avoided the Police for years. As a result, she was arrested when she entered the US on a business trip. Bonnie you don't seem to grasp the law. If you conspire with friends to kidnap and harm someone, you share equal guilt for the crime, even if you weren't the one who wielded the meat cleaver. Everybody who participated is being charged with murder. Your attempt to minimalize doesn't work in law. Stating the Prosecutor is trying to ruin her life because he is jealous of her being a successful Hispanic woman confirms you're wacked. You're engaging in deflection and racism because you have no compelling reasons to support her innocence.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

" she felt ashamed and didn't want her family to know" yet she told the group of criminals?  Got a morning after pill?  I think if I were raped I'd get screened for std's as well!  Her story is not adding up.  I think she thinks she is smarter than everyone else, I wouldn't doubt that she has a very high IQ and that is what gets smart psychopaths in trouble.  They think they can outsmart everyone.  Why would a smart, educated woman surround herself with this group?  It's because she isn't any different than them.  I want her to go down!  You're not fooling me Norma!

jamiepizza99
jamiepizza99

freaking weird broad..what's funny is if this bitch didn't get caught, We'd have Gustavo promoting her like he does his other immigrant tokens.

cheebo
cheebo

Esparza has done a great job of media spin with videos of her daughter, a change.org petition and a social media campaign to proclaim herself as a rape victim.  If she was raped, I'm sorry she endured that experience.  Unfortunately there is no proof of that other than her own words and rape does not justify murder.


In looking at the totality of her actions the last 20 years, it smacks of guilt.  She went to great lengths to shield herself from the police by marrying the guy who murdered Ramirez to claim spousal privilege, moved to Africa and then to France,  Once the Police caught up with her in France, she refused to speak with them.


She's misguided to think she's completely innocent because she did not wield the meat cleaver.   Esparza will get what her alleged rapist didn't: a fair trial and an impartial jury 

Hip Ngau
Hip Ngau

What a twisted mind! The case has been cold for 20 yrs because the murder happened in 1995 and u said it's wasn't. Cooperating now doesn't mean she is not a killer then. Read and understand the article before you turn it into another dumb case of racism.

Bonni Bogard
Bonni Bogard

It was not a cold case. They have known all along who killed the guy and even had her right after the guy was killed. She cooperated throughout. Every time they contacted her, she answered to them & jumped through their hoops. Why isn't she just considered a witness to the part she saw...a brief part of the beating but not the actual murder? It sounds like the prosecutor has a chip on their shoulder that this once poor minority immigrant has a better education, higher degree, higher income, more celebrated career and international respect. In the prosecutor's eyes, this woman was supposed to stay a loser and marry a gang-banger & be in & out of the system. This is total discrimination. Not because she's Hispanic but because she's Hispanic AND made something of her life. The prosecutor is determined to ruin this woman's life. Because of their own bitterness & jelousy. Not because she's guilty of murder...but jealous resentment because this woman beat the status quo & rose to a level of success above the level that they think should be allowed.

jimbo
jimbo

@FishWithoutBicycle - "I could see the (twisted) logic of killing the person who raped you."

Wanting to, fine, but actually doing it? In what universe??? Maybe you should move to Saudi Arabia.

Hip Ngau
Hip Ngau

For a PhD diploma, she is really smart of how to mastermind for others to get involve and killed for her while she just stayed safely to play as helpless victim. The dead one can't be there to explain himself for the actual happened sex. She didn't report it to the police. Hmmm, maybe the dead guy just want to have a one-time fling w/ her, and she wanted to get revenged, so she cried out "he raped me". Remember, she is smart and she should know she is not above the law.

Danny Dandandadandandan
Danny Dandandadandandan

as a society, yes it has to be taken seriously. but I don't feel bad for the guy at all.

Savanna Smith
Savanna Smith

Sorry daughter of murdered rapist, your daddy did a crime that he had to pay for! Maybe in his next life he'll know to keep his dick in his pants, and NO means NO!!

Eon RosVive
Eon RosVive

it's still murder......so is it ok if the dead guy's son or daughter then kills Norma P Esparza?.....where does it end?......#FlawedLogic

Maria Serpa
Maria Serpa

Damn all kinds of criminals in orange county now. That sucks!

949girl
949girl topcommenter

I think she should have taken the plea and the 3 year jail sentence.  Jail, not even prison?  You don't mess with the OCDA. I don't think a jury would even recommend a sentence that low for her because there is no proof of her being raped.  I could see her boyfriend wanting to get revenge on the victim but what was the motive for all of the other people?  The murder could have been over something else entirely like robbery.  Who knows?  I could see her getting 2nd degree murder and 15 years to life in prison. 

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@jimbo  

I said it was TWISTED...never said it was RIGHT. And as a woman I think I might rather be dead than live in Saudi Arabia. Women aren't even allowed to drive there.

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@949girl  

Agree. I could see the (twisted) logic of killing the person who raped you...but why did all those other people have to die? Doesn't make sense. Maybe a trial will sort it out...what little comfort that will bring to the families of the victims.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@FishWithoutBicycle @949girlNo one else died except for Tran who later killed himself in a standoff years later.  I don't like people who play the perpetual victim.  I'm not buying it from her because she is educated, she has a PhD in Psych!  And why did she stay married to her first husband, the killer, for almost 10 years?  Maybe she cheated on Van and said it was rape.  I usually give people the benefit of the doubt but I think she is more involved than what she is saying.  It just doesn't make sense that so many people would be involved in a rape revenge attack.  I think it was some sort of robbery, setup or drug deal.  Probably had something to do with money to get so many people involved.  

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@FishWithoutBicycle @949girlWho knows if she was raped or not.  Even if she was, and I'll say that she was.  Not doing anything to stop someone from getting tortured and killed as revenge doesn't make it ok.  She was too scared to call the cops but wasn't too scared to tell her boyfriend?  If she was so ashamed why tell him?  That doesn't make sense.  I believe that the company a person keeps says a lot about their character.  And she seems to have known a lot of shady people.  Apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  I'm glad she's being held without bail in the jail. 

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@949girl @FishWithoutBicycle 

Agree. I too am thinking the rape charge was bogus and that she had consensual sex with Ramirez and was willing to see him die to avoid admitting an affair. I have no respect for a fellow female who says she was raped when she wasn't. And to murder someone to protect that lie is even more reprehensible.

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@FishWithoutBicycle @949girlIf she had a boyfriend why did she invite him in to her dorm room alone?  It says he drove her back and there was no mention of him forcing his way in.  It said while he was in the dorm room?  I don't blame the victim but I really don't see her as a victim.  Plenty of people have concocted rape stories to get out of affairs.  I've heard of women saying they were raped but really they were having an affair with the guy. 


"She says she has been fearful of--and easily influenced by--men ever since."  I'm sure it wasn't that hard to influence her in to having sex then if she already invited him in to her dorm.  I don't know why but this case just sounds fishy.  I definitely think she should have taken the 3 years and considered she got off so lucky.  She could go down for the rest of her life now. 

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

@949girl @FishWithoutBicycle 

Sorry, I read it wrong. But Ms. Esparza has certainly created misery for many. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, too...but all these unknowns seem to point to bad intent on her part. Probably one of the scenarios you stated above...or maybe she's seriously mentally ill and is a world-class manipulator...or maybe it's all of those things. Time will tell.

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