A college professor pleaded guilty in a California courtroom to a reduced manslaughter charge in the 1995 death of a man she claims raped her.
Norma Esparza, 40, was arrested two years ago in the cold case murder of Gonzalo Ramirez, 24, who was found hacked to death by a meat cleaver on an Orange County road nearly 20 years ago.
Esparza, a professor at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland, is one of five suspects in the death. She was arrested when she re-entered the U.S. for an academic conference in 2012.
She claims she never meant for Ramirez to die. She says her boyfriend at the time, Gianna Van, forced her to point him out after she told him about the alleged rape.
Her attorney, Jack Earley, said she wasn’t forthcoming when previously questioned by police two decades ago because she was too scared.
“She was frightened,” Earley told the Los Angeles Times. “And she realizes that... there’s a chance people will hold her accountable for that. It’s very hard for someone to put themselves in her situation. At trial they’d be looking at a 40-year-old instead of what she was at the time, which was a 20-year-old girl.”
Esparza claims Ramirez raped her in her dorm room at Pomona College in Claremont, California, a few months before the April 15, 1995, murder.
Before she reached a plea agreement, she was facing a felony charge of special circumstance murder, which carries a life sentence without parole.
Instead, she is expected to be sentenced to six years in state prison and to testify against three of her co-defendants, the Orange County district attorney’s office said Friday.
The fifth suspect in the case was never tried – he shot himself during a police standoff in 2012.
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup, Los Angeles Times / Allen J. Schaben