Judge orders trial in Orange County rape/murder cold case


Dr. Patricia Esparza listened as a former Irvine police officer described the body of Gonzalo Ramirez, the man she's accused of killing. His body was dumped along a road in Irvine in 1995.

The investigator, Laurence Montgomery, testified the 24-year-old had suffered more than 30 slashes, cuts like a meat cleaver, to Ramirez's upper body.

"One particular injury to his right wrist was a cut in the skin as well as the bone that actually went through the bone, so the bone was broken," said Montgomery, a witness for the prosecution.

The prosecutor alleges the Esparza, a 39-year-old psychology professor who was 20 in 1995, played an active role. But Esparza claims she was the victim: Ramirez raped her in her dorm room.

Esparza says she told her boyfriend, Gianni Van, about it two weeks afterward.

"He was angry and upset," said Michael Kendrick, an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

Authorities suspect Esparza and Van, along with Shannon Gries, Kody Tran and his wife Diane Tran, conspired to kill Ramirez.

Diane Tran pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter last month.

"Diane Tran told you that during this discussion, the defendant nodded her head in agreement regarding the plan to kidnap and kill Gonzala Ramirez," prosecutor Mike Murray said to Kendrick in court Wednesday.

"Right," said Kendrick.

According to the investigator, Tran told him that Esparza and the other defendants went to a Santa Ana bar, where Esparza pointed out the victim.

"They would follow the victim out of the club, and then they would stage a traffic accident by rear-ending him," said Kendrick.

Authorities allege the victim was taken to Tran's transmission shop, where he was tied up and beaten.

In a previous interview, Esparza says she was forced to watch, but denied any involvement. She claimed 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 at a news conference on November 20, 2013.

Esparza was living in France with her husband and daughter before her arrest. She rejected a deal last year to plead guilty to manslaughter. The judge ruled Wednesday that there is enough evidence to try her for murder.

Esparza remains in custody. She's expected to be back in court on March 11.

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