December 15, 2018

Webster Geneva professor Norma Patricia Esparza taken into custody for 1995 murder

SANTA ANA, CA-NOV. 19, 2013:  Dr. Jorge Mancillas, right, listens to his wife, and daughter, Arianna Mancillas, 4, hugs her mom, Norma Esparza, left, while speaking during a press conference outside the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.  (Photo By Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

SANTA ANA, CA-NOV. 19, 2013: Dr. Jorge Mancillas, right, listens to his wife, and daughter, Arianna Mancillas, 4, hugs her mom, Norma Esparza, left, while speaking during a press conference outside the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (Photo By Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Webster University Geneva professor Norma Patricia Esparza was taken into custody Thursday Nov. 21 in connection with a murder from 1995, following a pre-trial hearing in Orange, Calif. Esparza is accused of helping plan the murder of Gonzalo Ramirez.

Esparza previously pleaded not guilty and was released on $300,000 bail in late 2012 and allowed to return to Geneva, Switzerland.

Esparza is one of four being tried for the murder and is the only one who was offered bail. Farrah Emami, a spokesperson for the Orange County District Attorney’s office, told The Journal that Esparza was offered bail because she had been cooperative and planned to testify against the others. But Farrah had said that the deal was dependant on Esparza pleading guilty and some form of jail time.

“Whatever the charges are that they are asking me to plead guilty for it’s essentially something I cannot accept because it would essentially be a lie,” Esparza said at a press conference held Wednesday Nov. 20, 2013 in Orange, Calif. (Video contributed by CBS Los Angeles)

But when Esparza denied the prosecution’s deal on Thursday Nov. 21, 2013 of a guilty plea and three years in state prison, the prosecution considered her non-cooperative and her bail was revoked by the court.

“(Esparza) has not plead guilty or held responsibility. So we thought it was time to take her into custody,” Emami said.

A preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 23, 2013. At the hearing, evidence will be presented  and the court will decide if there is enough evidence to move forward to a trial.

Esparza lives in Geneva with her husband and daughter and works as a professor of psychology for Webster Geneva.

Esparza was a student at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. when she met Ramirez at a bar in Santa Ana, Calif.

The next day Esparza and her sister met Ramirez for breakfast and Ramirez offered to drive her back to her dorm. While in her dorm she claims that Ramirez sexually assaulted her and left.

Two weeks later Esparza said she went to the bar where she met Ramirez with her ex-boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van. She claims Van forced her to point out Ramirez.

According to the prosecution at this point, Van, Kody Tran and Shannon Ray Gries assaulted Ramirez and took him back to Tran’s auto shop where he was killed.

The case died in 1996 when Esparza married Van and was unable to testify against him. Esparza told the Los Angeles Times that she married Van because she feared for her life.

In 2006, police lost track of Esparza when she divorced Van and moved to France.  She began teaching at Webster’s Geneva campus in 2009, according to the Webster Geneva campus website.

Blood evidence and a witness coming forward from Tran’s auto shop reopened the case in 2012, which lead to the arrests of Van, Diane Tran and Gries. Kody Tran died in a police shootout in 2012 prior to the reopening of the case.

When Esparza was first arrested in October 2012 when she stepped off a plane in Boston, Mass. She was passing through Boston on her way to a Webster University conference in St. Louis.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Esparza told the grand jury she thought “the worst that would happen is that (Van) would rough him up.”

Van, Diane Tran and Gries’ next pre-trial hearing is set for Jan. 31, 2014 and a jury trial on Feb. 4, 2014.

 

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