Psychology Professor Accused in 1995 Slaying: “I Can't Live With a Guilty Plea”

The defendant says she's not a killer, but a rape victim who became caught up in a tangled murder plot.

A psychology professor is accused of putting into motion the plan to kill a man she said raped her in her college dorm room almost two decades ago, authorities testified Wednesday.

Norma Esparza is accused in the 1995 slaying of Gonzalo Ramirez, of Santa Ana.

Prosecutors allege that 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.

In court on Wednesday, an investigator testified that Esparza identified her attacker to friends inside a crowded bar.

"They would follow the victim out of club and then they would stage a traffic accident, like rear ending him. They would then beat him up, kidnap him and kill him," Michael Kendrick, an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office testified Wednesday.

Even before Ramirez was killed, prosecutors said Esparza was trying to find a legal way out of the case – making plans to marry Van so she wouldn’t have to testify against him.

Detectives testified that Esparza may not have planned the killing on her own but she went along with it and did nothing to help Ramirez when she saw him bloody and beaten before he died.

Authorities said another defendant, Diane Tran, told them about the plot. After she cooperated, Tran took a plea deal but Esparza refused.

Esparza is being held without bail inside the Orange County Women’s Jail. It was there that she told NBC4’s partners at Dateline NBC why she chose to go to trial.

"I had to reflect on who I was, think about my conscience and what could I live with and I can’t live with a guilty plea," she said.

The psychology professor and mother said she’s not a killer, but a rape victim who became caught up in a tangled murder plot.

When the hearing ended, Esparza’s husband and defense attorney spoke in private with the district attorney. It’s not clear what they discussed.

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