SANTA ANA (AP) — A professor testifying in a cold-case trial in Southern California said Thursday that she was intimidated into identifying her rapist to the man now charged with killing him in 1995.
Norma Esparza, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the case and agreed to testify, said from the stand that her former boyfriend, Gianni Van, now 45, was outraged when he heard about the assault and demanded that she find and point out Gonzalo Ramirez at the bar where she met him.
Van is now charged with the murder of Ramirez. Prosecutors allege Van and friends kidnapped and beat Ramirez and left him by the roadside.
“We were sitting around a booth next to an entrance or exit, and at some point I see Gonzalo Ramirez walk by,” Esparza said of the night in 1995, according to the Orange County Register. “When I see him, I cringe,” she said, showing how she reacted by bending her head down and putting her face in her hands. “I didn’t want to see him again.”
Esparza, testifying in the trial’s second day, said she was “broken” by the assault, that Van was directing his anger not just at her attacker but at her, and that she did not know what Van and his friends would do once she pointed out Ramirez.
“He would just insult me,” she said. “He would rant and just be explosive.”
Van’s lawyer, Jeremy Dolnick, said his client had no role in the murder and knew nothing of any plans to kidnap or kill Ramirez.
The case has drawn international attention since Esparza — who went on to become a psychology professor and moved to France — was arrested in 2012, provoking an outcry from advocates for sexual assault victims who say the case sends a chilling message to rape survivors.
Esparza, 40, is expected to receive a six-year sentence in exchange for testifying at the trials of Van and another defendant.
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