SANTA ANA (CNS) - Three people are facing charges in a 1995 revenge murder in Santa Ana, and a forth is being sought, police said today.
A fifth suspect, Kody Tran of Irvine, committed suicide during a SWAT standoff in Irvine in July, Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
Shannon Ray Gries, whose last known address was in Colorado, is being sought, he said.
Norma Patricia Esparza, 38, Gianni Anthony Van, 43, and Diane Tran, 44, have been charged in the April, 16, 1995, kidnapping-murder of 25-year-old Gonzalo Ramirez, Bertagna said. They are scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 21.
Ramirez was kidnapped in Santa Ana, and his body was found the next day in Irvine, wrapped in fabric, Bertagna said. Police said Ramirez and another man left the El Cortez Bar just before 1 a.m. and were driving north on Lyon Street when a 1980s-model Chevrolet van rear-ended their car at a stop light at Chestnut Avenue, Bertagna said.
Ramirez got out of the car, and a man who got out of the van and punched Ramirez, knocking him down, he said. Another man got out of the van and indicated he had a weapon, Bertagna said.
Ramirez's friend ran and sought help from a security guard at First and Lyon streets but, by the time they returned, returned, the assailants and Ramirez were gone, Bertagna said.
Ramirez's body was found about 8:15 a.m. the next day at Sand Canyon Road near the San Diego (405) Freeway, Bertagna said. An autopsy showed Ramirez
suffered multiple blows to the head and chest from what appeared to be a meat cleaver, Bertagna said.
Phone records showed Ramirez called Esparza at her home in Santa Ana and at her dorm room at Pomona College shortly before the killing, and investigators questioned her in June of 1995, Bertagna said.
Esparza told investigators she met Ramirez at the El Cortez Bar on March 25, 1995, and they had breakfast together the morning after, Bertagna said. Ramirez offered to give her a ride back to Pomona College, where she alleged he sexually assaulted her, Bertagna added.
Several weeks later she told her ex-boyfriend, Van, about what happened, angering him, Bertagna said. Esparza told investigators that she told Van that she did not want to do anything about the attack, Bertagna said.
When Van was questioned in June 1995, he denied having anything to do with Ramirez's slaying, Bertagna said.
Tran, who owned a Chevy van, told police in June 1995 that he let Van use the vehicle sometimes, Bertagna said. Tran said Van also had a key to Tran's business, Accurate Transmission in Costa Mesa, prompting investigators to collect evidence from the business' office, Bertagna said.
A break in the case came March 4, 2010, when investigators at the Orange County Sheriff's crime lab matched DNA evidence from Tran's office to Ramirez, Bertagna said.
In October this year, Esparza was arrested in Massachusetts on a murder warrant, Bertagna said. Records indicated Esparza was booked at the Orange County jail on Nov. 2 and that she was released on bail Monday.
Esparza listed her occupation as professor of jail records.
Esparza and Van married at some point after Ramirez's death, but they later divorced, Bertagna said.
A witness to the kidnapping who knew Gries and lived and worked at Tran's transmission shop at the time of the killing talked to police Thursday, Bertagna said.
The witness, whose name was withheld, Gries, Kody, Diane Tran, Gianni Van and Esparza allegedly met at the auto shop to plan the attack on Ramirez, Bertagna said. The suspects arrived at the bar at Grand and Warner avenues in two vehicles, and Esparza identified Ramirez, who was followed when he left, he said.
Esparza and the witness went to a bar near the transmission shop and waited until Gries called, telling them to come by the business, Bertagna said.
When Esparza and the other woman arrived, Gries suggested they "come upstairs and see what they had done to this guy," but he also warned her that she would be harmed if she ever told anyone, Bertagna said. The woman declined to go upstairs, he said, though Esparza confirmed Ramirez had been abducted, Bertagna said.
Esparza, who is charged with murder with a special circumstance sentencing enhancement of kidnapping, pleaded not guilty Monday and was ordered to return to court for a pretrial hearing Feb. 22, according to court records.
Van and Diane Tran are charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, with special circumstance sentencing enhancement allegations of kidnapping and murder by means of lying in wait.