Norma Patricia Esparza attends a news conference Nov. 20, 2013, in Santa Ana, Calif.
(Photo: Bruce Chambers, The Orange County Register, via AP)
Rejecting a plea deal and maintaining her innocence, a psychology professor now faces trial for her alleged involvement in the murder of a man she claimed raped her 18 years ago when she was a student in Southern California.
Norma Patricia Esparza, 39, who lives in France near the Swiss border and teaches in Geneva, was taken to jail Thursday after an Orange County judge revoked the $300,000 bail that had allowed her to remain free since last year. After previously pleading not guilty, she rejected the prosecutor's offer to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and be sentenced to three years in prison.
Esparza, who was arrested when she returned to the United States for an academic conference, is now charged with special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping, which could send her to prison for life if she's convicted in the slaying of Gonzalo Ramirez. A preliminary hearing was set for Dec 23.
Three others, including her ex-boyfriend at the time, are also standing trial. A fourth suspect died in a shootout with police last year.
"This is an incredible injustice," Esparza's husband, Jorge Mancillas, said after the brief hearing in Santa Ana. "She knew they were asking her bail to be revoked and yet she came."
"I guess in Orange County it doesn't count to be innocent," he added.
Ramirez was abducted, beaten and hacked in the Los Angeles suburbs in April 1995 after Esparza told friends at a bar that he had raped her weeks earlier in her dormitory room at Pomona College. She claimed she did not participate and was forced to watch.
At a news conference outside the courthouse Wednesday, Esparza said it would be a "lie" if she accepted the deal.
"The principle of what they're asking me is to plead guilty to something that they know I am not responsible for," she said with her husband and 4-year-daughter by her side.
In addition to being raped, Esparza said, she was was sexually abused since coming to California from Mexico as a child.
The district attorney says Esparza wants to try the case in the media.
"We filed this case because we have the evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff, told the Associated Press.
The Los Angeles Times has more details about the case and Esparza's immigrant-success story.