Case # 13ZF0162
Date: July 10, 2015
DEFENDANT SENTENCED TO LIFE IN STATE PRISON WITHOUT PAROLE FOR SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES STABBING-MURDER IN 1995 COLD CASE KIDNAPPING OF MAN
*One co-defendant awaits jury trial in this case and two other co-defendants await sentencing in this case
SANTA ANA – A defendant was sentenced today to life in state prison without the possibility of parole for the special circumstances cold case kidnapping and stabbing murder of a man in 1995. Gianni Anthony Van, 45, Costa Mesa, was found guilty by a jury on May 7, 2015, of one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping.
Co-defendant Diane Tran, 46, Costa Mesa, pleaded guilty on Jan. 24, 2014, to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter with a sentencing enhancement for being armed with a firearm during the commission of a felony. She faces a maximum sentence of four years in state prison at her sentencing on March 25, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Co-defendant Shannon Ray Gries, 44, Santa Ana, is charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping and a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a firearm. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole plus an additional 10 years in state prison. He is scheduled for jury trial on July 17, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41.
Co-defendant Norma Patricia Esparza, 40, France, pleaded guilty on Sept. 12, 2014, to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter. She is expected to be sentenced to six years in state prison at her sentencing on Sept. 11, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41.
Kody Tran, Diane Tran’s husband, was also involved in the murder, but died before charges were filed in the case.
Esparza, Diane Tran, and Van have been convicted and Gries is accused of the following:
In March 1995, Esparza was a college student in Pomona. Van previously was in a romantic relationship with Esparza, and after they ended the relationship, Esparza returned to Orange County to visit her sister.
On March 25, 1995, Esparza went with her sister to El Cortez bar in Santa Ana and met 24-year-old Gonzalo Ramirez. The next morning, Esparza had breakfast at a restaurant in Santa Ana with Ramirez, her sister, and a friend. Ramirez later drove Esparza and her friend back to Esparza’s dorm room in Pomona.
In early April 1995, Van received a phone call from Esparza who told him about Ramirez.
Late on the night of April 15, 1995, Gries is accused of meeting with Esparza, Van, and another friend at Accurate Transmission in Costa Mesa, owned by Kody Tran. Gries is accused of going with Van and Esparza to El Cortez that night and having Ramirez pointed out by Esparza.
Early on the morning of April 16, 1995, Ramirez left the bar with a friend. Gries is accused of participating with Van and Kody Tran in following Ramirez in a van as the victim drove away out of the bar, and intentionally rear-ending his vehicle, forcing Ramirez to pull over. When Ramirez exited his car, Gries and Van are accused of attacking him and dragging the victim into the van. The defendants are accused of threatening the victim’s friend who saw the attack and attempted to help the victim.
While Ramirez’s friend fled to seek help, Gries is accused of joining Van in kidnapping Ramirez and driving him back to Accurate Transmission, where they were met with Diane Tran. The defendants are accused of tying up the victim, driving him from Accurate Transmission to an area near Sand Canyon Road, and hacking at his body multiple times using a meat cleaver, murdering Ramirez. Gries is accused of being in possession of a firearm at the time of the crime. The defendants are accused of then dumping his body on the side of Sand Canyon Road, where he was found that morning by Irvine Police Department.
The Santa Ana Police Department investigated this case, but it went cold. Sometime after the murder, Esparza moved to France with her husband. In that time, new evidence surfaced and when Esparza re-entered the United States in October 2012, landing in Boston, she was arrested and extradited back to Orange County to face charges related to Ramirez’s murder. Gries, Van, and Tran were arrested shortly thereafter.
At the sentencing today, the victim’s brother submitted a written impact statement to the court that was read by the People. The impact statement talked about how the victim’s death has affected their whole family and will continue to affect them the rest of their lives. The victim’s brother went on to describe how difficult it is seeing his mother cry to the point of unconsciousness and feeling the pain and suffering every Father’s Day because his nieces won’t be able to see their father or tell him that they love him. The letter also expressed the torture they feel when they imagined the way Ramirez died and the fact that he was tied up, restrained, and thrown off the side of the road like an animal. The impact statement went on to describe how Ramirez continues to remain in the thoughts and prayers of the family.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.