December 2, 2016

Former Webster Geneva Professor pleads guilty to manslaughter

Former Webster University-Geneva Professor Norma Patricia Esparza pled guilty on Sept. 12 to voluntary manslaughter in the killing of a man who she alleges raped her in 1995.

Esparza pled guilty in Orange County, Calif., in exchange for a six-year prison sentence according to a CBS News article. Up until her guilty plea, Esparza maintained her innocence in the killing of Gonzalo Ramirez.

“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 on Nov. 20, 2013 in Orange County.

Esparza was accused of helping plan the killing of Ramirez with her ex-boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van, Shannon Ray Gries, Diane Tran and Kody Tran.

“There was inherent risk in going to trial,” Jack Earley, Esparza’s attorney said to CBS News. “The question is do you take those risks, and if you do, would you take them for yourself and do you take them for your child?”

The Journal reached out to Earley. He did not get back to The Journal by press time.

Esparza turned down a similar plea deal a year prior which would have had her serve three years in prison, while still maintaining innocence. She was arrested in Oct. 2012 in Boston, Mass. enroute to a Webster University conference in St. Louis. After rejecting the plea deal offered in 2013, she was taken back into custody.

The occurrence  began in Claremont, Calif., where Esparza was a student at Pomona College. Esparza met Ramirez at a bar in Santa Ana and said the next day he sexually assaulted her in her dorm room.

Esparza said two weeks later she and Van went to find Ramirez at a bar. She said Van forced her to point out Ramirez. According to the prosecution, Van, Tran and Gries assaulted Ramirez and took him back to Tran’s auto shop where he was killed.

Due to spousal privilege, the case died in 1996 when Esparza married Van. Esparza told the Los Angeles Times, she reluctantly married him in fear for her life. The Cornell University Law School website defines spousal privilege in criminal cases as when one spouse may refuse to testify against his or her spouse. 

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

Esparza lived in Geneva, Switzerland with her husband, Jorge Mancillas, and their daughter. She worked as a professor of psychology for      Webster University’s Geneva Campus.

According to a Webster University statement, the university voided her employment at the time of her conviction. 

“It’s important to know that she had been a Webster University employee long before her arrest and long before this case became public. Because of the sensitive nature of this case, the University will offer no further comment,” said Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin.

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

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