“It’ll be a fun trial!” gloats prosecutor, as T-Rack springs 18-year old murder charge on rape victim.


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With husband Jorge

Tomorrow morning, if diminutive, 39-year old World Health Organization consultant, psychologist, rape victim and mother Dr. Norma Patricia Esparza doesn’t plead guilty to an (unspecified lesser) charge admitting responsibility for the murder of her rapist back in 1995, prosecutor Michael Murray will have her arrested on ACTUAL murder charges, after which he gleefully promises “a FUN TRIAL!”

Now, most of the following comes from Dr. Esparza and her urbane husband, Dr. Jorge Mancillas (of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) … but having met them, and knowing all about the overzealousness and sadism of Tony Rackauckas’ prosecutors, I give them the benefit of the doubt until we all see a lot more evidence to the contrary.

Norma’s life seems at first glance to be an embodiment of the American dream – to live her first five years in a tiny rural Mexican town with no sewage or running water, come to SanTana and attend the public schools, earn a merit-based scholarship to a top New Hampshire boarding school, get a PhD in psychology and end up working for the World Health Organization in Geneva (and live in a French suburb of that Swiss town.)

But, behind the scenes, there was darkness.  Sexually abused from age 5-12 by her father, who also beat her mother, she learned to suffer quietly and keep things to herself.  Same thing when she was raped at the age of 20 in her dorm room by one hapless Gonzalo Ramirez.

A bit later she made the mistake of confiding the rape to her then-boyfriend, (allegedly) hotheaded Gianni Van.  Feeling the rape to be an assault to his manhood, he resolved, with a few conspirators, to avenge it (allegedly.)  According to this DA press release from last year, Norma did point out Gonzalo to Gianni at a “Mexican bar near Warner and Grand,” without knowing he had murder on his mind.  Hey – I think I know that bar!

So one April night in 1995, Gonzalo was allegedly dragged kicking and screaming by Van and three accomplices – including Kody Tran who died last year in a shootout with a SWAT team – to Kody’s Costa Mesa shop “Accurate Transmissions,” where they proceeded to beat him half to death.  After a while they had Norma driven over so that she and the bloodied Gonzalo could see each other.  She didn’t witness them later allegedly finishing him off with stabs and blows to the head.

Alleged murderer Gianni Van.

In fact she didn’t know he was actually killed until the police told her.  She was never a suspect; the police emphasized how brutal the murder was and how dangerous Van and his circle were, and yet they offered her no protection.  Meanwhile, Van’s concerns shifted to fears of the straitlaced Norma turning him in;  he warned her that “if she ever fucked him over he would do the same thing to her,” and then pressured her into a nine-month sham marriage so that she couldn’t be forced to testify against him.

With Anastasia.

With a lot of things to keep silent about now – childhood abuse, a rape, involvement in a murder – Norma went on with her life, working as a counselor at USC, earning her PhD, working on global health policy in Europe, eventually meeting and marrying Dr. Mancillas and giving birth to darling, now 4-year-old, Anastasia.  Lawyer friends she confided in advised her to keep all of this to herself; by now she was in legal danger from keeping silent this long;  AND Van and his friends were still at large, dangerous, and well aware of all the places in the OC where her family lived.

SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER – July of last year – Norma was unexpectedly arrested in Massachusetts.  After being assured that Van and his three accomplices were all either in custody or dead, she told the authorities EVERYTHING.  And they let her go, assuring her that she was no longer a suspect.  She has been co-operating with the law since October 2012, and has been allowed to travel back and forth to Europe to do her important global health work.

But NOW, all of a sudden – yesterday, I believe – she gets this ultimatum?  To accept responsibility for this murder (pleading guilty to some unspecified charge to which she claims innocence) or else be arrested for murder and go through what the prosecutor crows will be a “FUN TRIAL?”  Suddenly she’s dangerous after being allowed to travel all over the world for eleven months?  Asked why now, after a year of refusing to talk to her attorneys, this sudden development, prosecutor Murray responds “Because she’s a MURDERESS.”  What kind of new evidence could there be?  The Orange Juice Blog remains skeptical, and we will be there tomorrow morning for sure.

For more info, and to sign a petition, go to ProjectHopeGeneva.org.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.