July 21, 2019

Webster Professor Norma Esparza in custody for murder case

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 on Thursday Nov. 21 in connection with a 1995 murder, following a pre-trial hearing in Orange, Calif.

 

Esparza is accused of helping to plan the murder of Gonzalo Ramirez, whom she alleges raped her.

 

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

 

Esparza is one of four defendants being tried for the murder, and she was 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 Emami had told Esparza that the deal was dependent on Esparza’s guilty plea 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 the day before her hearing at a press conference in Orange, Calif.

 

 

But when Esparza denied the prosecution’s plea bargain of three years in state prison on Nov. 21 2013, the prosecution considered her uncooperative and the court revoked her bail.

 

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

 

Esparza felt she had helped build the prosecution’s case against the other defendants. By asking her to plead guilty, Esp

arza feels they violated her trust, she said in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post.

 

Esparza said that her conflict with Ramirez was not the first time she had been sexually assaulted.

Esparza alleges her father sexually abused her as a child and that this incident made her more vulnerable.

 

 

“Rape and abuse are not only a violation of your body, but a violation of the trust you place on another human being. I trusted my father. For a fleeting moment, I trusted my rapist, letting him into my room. Then, I trusted the man I dated. Now, I have trusted the prosecutors,” Esparza said in the article.

 

A preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 23, 2013. At this hearing, the court will decide if there is substantial evidence to move forward to a jury trial.

 

 

If convicted, Esparza will face life in prison without chance of parole.

 

Support groups such as End Rape on Campus and Project HOPE Geneva have asked the District Attorney’s office to drop the charges against Esparza.

 

Project HOPE Geneva started a petition to release Esparza on Change.org to send to the District Attorney has received more than 4,000 of the 95,579 signatures needed.

 

 

The murder

 

Esparza met Ramirez at a bar in Santa Ana, Calif. while visiting her sister in 1995.

 

 

They met Ramirez the next morning for breakfast, and he offered to drive Esparza back to her dorm at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. While in her dorm, Esparza alleges that Ramirez overpowered and raped her.

 

 

“Despite struggling with him, I could not stop a man from taking me against my will by direct force. At 4’ 9” and weighing 95 pounds, he found it easy to overpower me,” Esparza said in her article. “I tried to keep the horrible incident to myself. But the

rape opened up an old wound that had not healed, taking me back to times of helplessness and submission as a child.”

 

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

 

According to the prosecution, Van, Shannon Ray Gries and Kody Tran assaulted Ramirez and took him back to Tran

’s auto shop where Ramirez was killed.

 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Esparza told the grand jury in 2013 she thought “the worst that would happen is that (Van) would rough him up.”

Esparza married Van in 1996 and was unable to testify against him. Esparza said at the press conference that she was threatened and forced to marry Van. The case was closed later that year.

 

 

Esparza later divorced Van, moved to Geneva to work for the World Health Organization in Geneva and began teaching psychology at Webster University’s Geneva campus. Esparza then married Jorge Mancillas with whom she had a child, Arianna Man

cillas, now 4 years old.

 

 

Blood evidence from Tran’s Auto Shop and a new witness coming forward reopened the case in 2010, which led to the arrests of Diane Tran, Gries and Van. Kody Tran died in a police shootout in 2012 before the case was reopened.

 

 

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.

 

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

 

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