SANTA ANA ( — A final conviction came down Monday in the 1995 kidnapping and stabbing murder of a man at the center of a revenge plot.

Shannon Ray Gries, 45, of Santa Ana pleaded guilty Monday to a felony count of murder during the commission of kidnapping 24-year-old Gonzalo Ramirez from the El Cortez bar in Santa Ana.

Ramirez had been kidnapped from the bar on April 15, 1995 by Gries and a co-defendant, 45-year-old Gianni Van, after Van’s ex-girlfriend, Norma Patricia Esparza, said he had raped her after driving her back to her dorm room in Pomona.

After they drove him to a Costa Mesa auto shop, prosecutors say Ramirez was tied up and taken to an area near Sand Canyon Road and hacked apart with a meat cleaver. His body was dumped on the side of Sand Canyon Road, where he was found later that morning by Irvine police.

Esparza, 38, had moved to France with her husband after the murder, which went cold, but had been revived by the time she re-entered the United States in October 2012. She was arrested in Boston and extradited back to Orange County to face charges in the murder.

Gries, Van and Diane Tran – the wife of auto shop owner Kody Tran, who has since died but was also believed to have been involved in the murder – were charged soon after Esparza’s arrest.

Tran, 47, of Costa Mesa, pleaded guilty on Jan. 24, 2014 to a felony count of voluntary manslaughter with a sentencing enhancement for being armed with a firearm in the commission of a felony and faces an expected sentence of four years in state prison.

Esparza pleaded guilty on Sept. 12, 2014 to a felony count of voluntary manslaughter and faces six years in state prison. Both Tran and Esparza are scheduled to be sentenced on July 15.

Van, 46, of Costa Mesa, was found guilty by a jury on May 7, 2015 of first-degree murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced on July 10, 2015 to life in state prison without the possibility of parole.

Gries faces 25 years to life in state prison.


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