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Professor Is Jailed After Rejecting Plea Deal In Slaying Of Alleged Rapist

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SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A woman accused of killing a man she claims raped her has been thrown back in jail after rejecting a plea bargain Thursday in the case.

Norma Patricia Esparza, 39, is one of four people charged in the April 16, 1995 kidnapping and killing of 25-year-old Gonzalo Ramirez. She had been free on $300,000 bail and was cooperating with authorities.

Prosecutors say Esparza’s bail, which has been revoked, had been contingent on agreeing to admit to manslaughter instead of murder.

“She aided and abetted in a felony murder and the underlying felony is a kidnapping,” Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Simmons said.

Esparza is due back in court for a Dec. 23 preliminary hearing.

“The first thing my wife said after she was handcuffed was to please take care of our daughter and to shield her from the pain of this experience,” Esparza’s husband, Jorge R. Mancillas, said after the hearing. “She asked me to stay strong.

Esparza said she could not bring herself to accept the plea deal.

“My level of responsibility is not that,” Esparza said of the killing. “I just don’t feel that’s what I’m responsible for.”

She also said that if she accepted the plea bargain, “I could lose my career and everything.”

Esparza is a respected professor of psychology in Geneva.

Esparza said she had been sexually abused by a relative for seven years and that she was raped by Ramirez in 1995.

“How do you blame someone who was abused for years and for the trauma of what happened that night?” Esparza said.

The defendant said she reported the 1995 rape to a college nurse, who did not contact authorities.

Esparza said she testified for prosecutors before a grand jury that indicted co-defendants Shannon Ray Gries, 42, Gianni Anthony Van, 44, and Diane Tran, 45, who are all jailed without bail. They are due in court Jan. 31 for a pretrial hearing. Tran’s late husband, Kody, was also a suspect in Ramirez’s death, but he killed himself during a SWAT standoff in Irvine in July, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

According to police and prosecutors, Ramirez and another man left the El Cortez Bar in Santa Ana just before 1 a.m. the day he was killed and were driving north on Lyon Street when a 1980s-model Chevrolet van rear-ended their car at a stop light at Chestnut Avenue.

Ramirez got out of the car, and a man who exited the van punched him, knocking him down. Another man got out of the van and indicated he had a weapon. 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 a business Tran operated, where the victim was fatally stabbed and later dumped in Irvine.

Esparza, who dated Van, met Ramirez at the bar the morning he was abducted and pointed him out to Van, Gries and Kody Tran, prosecutors allege.

Esparza was arrested in 1996, but prosecutors declined to press charges when she married Van in Las Vegas, meaning she could not be compelled to testify against him, according to Santa Ana police.

Esparza and Van divorced in 2006, police said.

According to Mancillas, Ramirez raped Esparza when she was a 20-year-old college student. She told a nurse about the attack, but it wasn’t reported to authorities. Esparza told Van, who reacted angrily and appeared to blame her, Mancillas said.

After Ramirez was abducted, Esparza was taken to a loft upstairs from the business Tran managed and shown a bloodied Ramirez, and she was threatened that the same would happen to her if she went to authorities, Mancillas said.

“She was terrified,” Mancillas said, adding Esparza was told by Ramirez’s attackers that they let him go, only to be told later by police he was dead.

RELATED: Professor Maintains Her Innocence In 1995 Slaying Of Alleged Rapist

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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