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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Professor Norma Esparza and the Cold-Case Murder of Gonzalo Ramirez

     Norma Patricia Esparza grew up in southern California's Orange County. On March 25, 1995, the 20-year-old Pomona College student, while in Santa Ana visiting her sister, went to a bar where she met Gonzalo Ramirez. The next morning, accompanied by her sister and a friend, Esparza met Ramirez at a restaurant. Following breakfast, Ramirez drove her back to her dormitory in Claremont.

     On April 15, 1995, during a meeting in Costa Mesa with her boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van at a transmission shop owned by his friend Kody Tran, Norma Esparza revealed that Ramirez had raped her in her Pomona College dorm room after she met him that morning for breakfast.

     The day following the meeting in the transmission shop, a police officer in Irvine, California found Ramirez's body along side of a back road. It looked as though someone had hacked him to death and chopped off several of his fingers. Detectives questioned Norma Esparza who repeated her rape allegation. She said she had no idea who had killed Ramirez.

     In 1996, Esparza and Gianni Van were married. That year, without promising leads in the Ramirez murder case, Irvine detectives shelved the homicide investigation.

     Norma Esparza graduated from Pomona College with a degree in psychology. In 2004, she divorced Gianni Van and moved to France. Five years after moving to Europe, Esparza moved to Geneva, Switzerland where she taught psychology and counseling at Webster University, an American accredited school with campuses in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

     As Esparza pushed ahead with her academic career, the authorities in California, after re-activating the Ramirez case in 2010, were making progress. Using advanced DNA science, a crime lab analyst was able to identify traces of blood recovered from Kody Tran's transmission shop in Costa Mesa as the murder victim's. Because Esparza had admitted being at the transmission shop on the night before the discovery of Ramirez's body, homicide investigators considered her a suspect in the 15-year-old murder.

     Ramirez case detectives believed that on April 15, 1995, after Esparza informed her boyfriend and Kody Tran that she had been raped three weeks earlier by Ramirez, she and the two men drove to a bar where Esparza pointed out Ramirez. As Ramirez drove home from the bar, Gianni Van intentionally rear-ended Ramirez's pickup truck at a red light. When the murder target climbed out of his truck to inspect the damage, Kody Tran and Gianni Van started punching him. Ramirez fled on foot but his attackers caught up to him and forced him into their van.

     After arriving at Tran's Costa Mesa transmission shop, Tran and Van hacked Ramirez to death with a meat cleaver. While detectives didn't think that Esparza had participated in the actual killing, they believed that she had been the chief motivating force behind the murder.

     An Orange County prosecutor, in February 2012, eighteen years after the Ramirez murder, charged Esparza, her ex-husband Gianni Van, and Kody Tran with murder. A short time later, during a stand-off with SWAT team officers, Kody Tan committed suicide.

     In October 2012, police in Boston, Massachusetts arrested Professor Esparza at Logan Airport where she had a layover on her way from Geneva, Switzerland to a Webster University related meeting in St. Louis. After her extradition to California, Esparza gained release from the Orange County Jail by posting her $300,000 bond.

    Two months after her arrest, Esparza signed a plea agreement with Special Prosecutor Scott Simmons in which she would remain free on bail as long as she, as a future trial witness, cooperated with the state. As part of the deal, Esparza agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Otherwise, she would be prosecuted for murder, a crime that could bring a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

    In November 2013 the Ramirez case took a sudden turn when the 39-year-old college professor told reporters that she had decided not to plead guilty. At that point, Orange County Judge Gerald Johnson revoked her bail and sent her back to the Orange County Jail.

     Esparza's current husband, Jorge Mancillas, called the bond revocation "an injustice." To reporters he said, "I guess in Orange County it doesn't count to be innocent."

     On September 15, 2014, Norma Esparza, having changed her mind, entered a guilty plea in Orange County Superior Court in exchange for a six-year prison sentence and the promise to testify against Gianni Van. Her attorney, Jack Earley, told reporters that "there is inherent risk in going to trial. The question is, do you take that risk.  Esparza and her husband Jorge Mancillos have a 4-year-old daughter." According to attorney Earley, his client's decision to plead had a lot to do with the child.

     On July 10, 2015, following a short trial, the jury found 43-year-old Gianni Anthony Van guilty of special circumstances murder. Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett sentenced Van to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

3 comments:

  1. The Orange County prosecutor was on a power trip on this one. This woman should not have ever been charged.

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    1. No.. she instigated the murder of the young man she said raped her. she was evil.. she used the marriage to Gianni as a ploy.. she got she deserved.

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  2. Sorry to jump in any old place and comment...I notice you don't have a blog roll of favorite blogs on the right side of your blog. If I add your blog to my blog roll, would you add mine?

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