Former OC Woman Jailed in 1995 Murder of Alleged Rapist

The psychology professor faces life in prison if her case goes to trial

A former Orange County resident was jailed in Santa Ana Thursday after refusing a plea deal in the murder case of a man she says raped her 18 years ago.

Psychology professor and mother Norma Esparza, 39, worked with prosecutors after being arrested one year ago in connection with the murder of Gonzalo Ramirez. But prosecutors said she did not fully comply with their demands, which included pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and facing up to three years in prison.

Esparza and her attorney argued that she did everything that was asked of her and that prosecutors did not hold up their end of a deal.

But, in a letter addressed to Esparza’s attorney almost one year ago, it states she would have to testify at all hearings, and that any negotiations would likely include a prison sentence. Now, if Esparza’s case goes to trial, her bail will be revoked.

"We agreed to let her out of custody based on the fact she was going to be a cooperating defendant," said Scott Simons, a deputy district attorney prosecuting the case. "That’s it."

Prosecutors allege that in 1995, Esparza told her boyfriend at the time, Gianna Van, that she was raped by Ramirez. Later, she was with a group of people who attacked Ramirez at what was then a transmission shop in Costa Mesa, officials said.

Police said she did nothing to stop the attack.

"I cowered, I withdrew," Esparza said. "I wasn't able to take control."

By telling her then-boyfriend about the rape, Esparza set in motion the torture and murder of Ramirez, police said.

"She aided and embedded in a felony murder ... that underlying felony is a kidnapping," Simons said.

A judge agreed and ordered her into custody Thursday.

Jorge Mancillas, Esparza’s husband, said that he told his wife to stay strong after she was handcuffed.

"I told her that we would fight for her," Mancillas said. "And that we will keep our faith that there is justice in this country."

Esparza maintained her innocence when she spoke to NBC4 outside of the courthouse Wednesday.

"(Ramirez) harmed me, but I never, ever intended any harm to be bestowed upon him," Esparza said.

Esparza is due back in court Dec. 23. If the case goes to trial, she faces life in prison.

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