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Rape victim rejects plea deal in cold-case murder

A woman who claims she had nothing to do with the murder of a man who raped her could now be facing prosecution.
November 20, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A woman who claims she had nothing to do with the cold-case murder of a man who raped her could now be facing prosecution. Several other surviving suspects are already facing trial.

The defendant, Dr. Patricia Esparza, a 39-year-old psychology professor who lives in France, is free on $300,000 bail. For the past year she says that she's had no trouble traveling back and forth between Santa Ana and her home in France.

But now prosecutors say that she has become uncooperative with authorities, and they plan to ask to have her bail revoked.

Dr. Patricia Esparza worries about her daughter Arianna.

"I am so distressed because of the possibility that she will be taken away," said Esparza.

Esparza's family traveled from their home in France to Santa Ana to fight prosecutors who want her bail revoked.

"They've said that if I don't plead guilty tomorrow, I will be taken back to custody," said Esparza.

Esparza is charged with the 1995 murder of Gonzalo Ramirez, a man she claims raped her when she was 20. Police allege she confided in ex-boyfriend Gianni Van.

"He was angry at her for not preventing it," said Esperanza's husband, Jorge Mancillas. "So he took matters in his own hands."

But authorities allege Esparza pointed out Ramirez at a Santa Ana bar. When he left, they say, Van, along with Shannon Gries and Kody Tran rear-ended him. He pulled over. Police suspect Ramirez was attacked, kidnapped and taken to Tran's transmission shop, where the group, including Esparza and Tran's wife Diane, conspired to kill him.

But Esparza claims she was the one who was kidnapped that night and forced to watch. She denies any involvement.

"I was terrorized and I wasn't participating at all," said Esparza. She was asked if at any time she said "stop." "I would rather not answer that question," she said.

Esparza says sexual abuse as a child, the rape and the trauma of that night forced her to shut down.

"All I knew is that these people were dangerous and I just needed to stay quiet," said Esparza.

She claims Tran forced her to marry Van to keep her from testifying against both of them. The case stalled for 15 years until Esparza re-married and moved to France. She was arrested last year when she re-entered the U.S. She says her testimony helped prosecutors charge the other suspects.

"I have cooperated since I was approached by the authorities in October of 2012," said Esparza.

"She's no longer cooperating with police and we believe that she's a flight risk," said Susan Kang Schroeder, Orange County District Attorney's Office,

Prosecutors say they're offering a plea deal. The details have not been disclosed.

"I cannot accept because it would essentially be a lie," said Esparza.

"It's very normal for criminal defendants to deny their part in a crime and we fully expect her to deny what she did," said Schroeder.

Kody Tran committed suicide last year and so was never charged.

Esparza plans to be in court Thursday for her bail-review hearing.


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