SANTA ANA, Calif. » A former psychology professor was sentenced today to six years in prison for the 1995 killing of a man she says raped her while she was a Southern California college student.
Norma Patricia Esparza, 41, pleaded guilty in 2014 to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for the prison term in the death of Gonzalo Ramirez.
She did not speak as she was sentenced with two co-defendants, but her lawyer told the court that his client realized all actions have consequences and she should have come forward sooner.
Esparza pointed out Ramirez at a bar in 1995 to former boyfriend Gianni Van and others who kidnapped and killed him, hacking him with a meat cleaver, authorities said. Ramirez’s bloodied body was found by the side of a road in Irvine, but the case went cold for years.
Esparza was arrested in 2012 while visiting the United States from France. Born in Mexico, Esparza grew up in California, obtained a doctorate in psychology and worked as a consultant for the World Health Organization and as a professor in Switzerland.
Her case drew international attention and stoked an outcry from campus sexual assault victims’ advocates, who said Esparza’s arrest sent a chilling message to rape survivors.
At the sentencing, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray read a letter from one of Ramirez’s brothers.
“It torments us to think of each stab, each hack and blow that he received while being tied without being able to defend himself,” the letter said.
Authorities charged four people with the death of Ramirez, who Esparza said raped her after she met him at a bar while she was a student at Pomona College.
Weeks later, Esparza pointed out Ramirez at the same bar. Van and two others followed him in a van and rear-ended him, attacked and kidnapped him, before tying him up and killing him, authorities said.
Esparza’s husband, Jorge Mancillas, told reporters in 2013 that his wife had confided to Van about the rape and Van took matters into his own hands. She was later forced into a sham marriage with Van to prevent her from testifying against him as police began looking into the murder.
Esparza was arrested after she had divorced Van, who was convicted by a jury and sentenced last year to life without parole for the killing.
Esparza took a plea deal in the hope of reuniting one day with her young daughter, her attorney Jack Earley told reporters after the hearing.
Her friend, Eloisa Martinez, said she hoped Esparza’s case would encourage victims to report rape.
“I truly believe had she said something when it happened, maybe she wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Also today, co-defendant Diane Tran was sentenced to four years in prison and freed based on time already served. She did not speak in court.
Shannon Gries, who was sentenced to 25 years to life, apologized and said he would spend his life trying to make amends to Ramirez’s family.
Outside court, the prosecutor said he was disappointed the defendants didn’t acknowledge killing Ramirez.
“It didn’t just happen. They murdered Gonzalo Ramirez, and I didn’t hear one of them take responsibility for that,” Murray told reporters.