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Rape victim handcuffed, taken into custody in cold-case murder

A rape victim was handcuffed and taken into custody Thursday after rejecting a plea deal in a 1995 murder case.
November 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
An alleged rape victim was handcuffed and taken into custody Thursday after rejecting a plea deal in a 1995 murder case.

"I do find that the circumstances have changed. This matter is going to no bail," said Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston.

Dr. Patricia Esparza, who lives in France, is charged in the 1995 murder of Gonzalo Ramirez, a man she claims raped her when she was 20. Police allege Esparza confided in ex-boyfriend Gianni Van about the rape. After that, she, Van, Kody Tran, Diane Tran and Shannon Gries conspired to kill Ramirez. Esparza moved to France afterward. She was arrested when she re-entered the U.S. last year.

The 39-year-old psychology professor had been free on $300,000 bail and was cooperating with authorities. But according to prosecutors, her bail was contingent on accepting a plea deal. She refused to accept the deal of voluntary manslaughter and a three-year prison term. Esparza claims she just learned of the deal, but the D.A. says it has been on the books since she was released on bail last year.

"The principle of what they're asking me is to plead guilty to something that they know I'm not responsible for," Esparza said Wednesday at a news conference. "I cannot accept because it would essentially be a lie."

Authorities allege Esparza pointed out Ramirez at the El Cortez Bar in Santa Ana the day of the killing. Ramirez and another man left the bar and were driving when a 1980s-model Chevrolet van rear-ended their car at a stop light at Chestnut Avenue, according to police and prosecutors. Ramirez got out of the car, and a man who exited the van punched him, knocking him down.

Ramirez's friend ran to get help from a security guard, but by the time they returned, the assailants and Ramirez were gone. Prosecutors allege Van, Gries and Kody Tran abducted Ramirez and took him to Tran's transmission shop, where the victim was fatally stabbed and later dumped in Irvine.

But Esparza claims she was the one who was kidnapped that night and forced to watch. She denies any involvement, and she says her testimony helped prosecutors charge the other suspects.

Esparza's husband, Jorge R. Mancillas, and 4-year-old daughter, Arianna, were in the courtroom for Thursday's hearing. Before Esparza was handcuffed, her daughter was taken into the hallway to play.

Her husband was sitting in the back of the courtroom. After she was placed in handcuffs, he came up to her, hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"The first thing my wife said after she was handcuffed was to please take care of our daughter Arianna and to shield her from the pain of this experience," Mancillas said after the hearing. "She asked me to stay strong. She told me she will keep fighting to prove her innocence."

"There is sufficient evidence to prove she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," said Simmons.

Esparza is scheduled to return to court on Dec. 23.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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