|For Immediate Release
Case # 13CF1632
September 12, 2014
MAN SENTENCED 15 YEARS TO LIFE IN PRISON FOR MURDERING ARMY VETERAN ROOMMATE AND DISPOSING OF HER BODY IN CANYON
SANTA ANA – A woman was convicted today for her role in the 1995 cold case kidnapping and stabbing-murder of a man, whom she met in a bar. Norma Patricia Esparza, 40, formerly of France, pleaded guilty to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter. She is expected to be sentenced to six years in state prison at a date to be determined. She will also testify in the jury trial against her co-defendants.
Esparza’s negotiated plea and sentence reflects her acknowledgment and acceptance of her role in the victim’s murder.
Gianni Anthony Van, 45, Costa Mesa, and Shannon Ray Gries, 43, Santa Ana, are each charged with one felony count of special circumstance murder in the commission of kidnapping. Gries faces an additional sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a firearm. If convicted, they face a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. They are scheduled to face jury trial Jan. 12, 2015, in Department C-42, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Diane Tran, 45, Costa Mesa, pleaded guilty Jan. 24, 2014, to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter with a sentencing enhancement for being vicariously armed with a firearm in the commission of a felony. She is expected to be sentenced to four years in state prison at a date to be determined and will testify in the jury trial against her co-defendants.
Kody Tran, Diane Tran’s husband, was also involved in the murder, but died before charges were filed in the case.
Esparza and Diane Tran have been convicted, and Van and Gries are accused of the following:
In March 1995, Esparza, a college student in Pomona, ended a romantic relationship with Van.
In March 25, 1995, Esparza went with her sister to El Cortez bar in Santa Ana and met 24-year-old Gonzalo Ramirez. On the morning of March 26, 1995, 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, Esparza called her ex-boyfriend, Van, and told him about Ramirez.
Late on the night of April 15, 1995, Esparza, Van, Gries, and another friend met at Accurate Transmission in Costa Mesa, owned by Kody Tran. The defendants then went to El Cortez that night. Once at the bar, Esparza pointed out Ramirez to her co-defendants.
Early on the morning of April 16, 1995, Ramirez left the bar with a friend. Gries, Van, and Kody Tran are accused of following Ramirez in a van as he drove away, intentionally rear-ending his vehicle, and 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. Ramirez’s friend saw the attack and attempted to help the victim, but the defendants are accused of threatening the victim’s friend.
While Ramirez’s friend fled to seek help, Gries and Van are accused of kidnapping Ramirez and driving him back to Accurate Transmission, where they met with Diane Tran. The defendants are accused of stabbing and murdering Ramirez. They are also 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 the 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 and landed in Boston in October 2012, she was arrested and extradited back to Orange County to face charges.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.