On Thursday, a man accused in a 1995 kidnapping and stabbing case was arrested. This came after his accomplice, who had become a professor in Europe, pleaded guilty to the charges in 2012.
Gianni Anthony Van, 45, will be sentenced to life imprisonment without a possibility of parole on July 10.
The victim in the case was Gonzalo Ramirez, 24, who was hacked to death with a meat cleaver. The incident occurred in Orange County.
Norma Esparza, accomplice and then-girlfriend of Van, said that Ramirez had raped her a few weeks before he was killed by Van.
She told Van about the rape and pointed out Ramirez in a bar. Van and his friends kidnapped Ramirez and murdered him.
According to NBC Los Angeles, Ramirez’s body was discovered the next morning at the San Canyon Road exit of the San Diego (405) Freeway in Irvine. Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray said that a meat cleaver had been used as a weapon.
Luciano Cid, the jury’s foreman, said that the two witnesses in the case – Julie Rojas, a girlfriend of one of the co-defendants at the time, and Noel Reyes, Ramirez’s friend, who was with the victim on the night of the murder – put Van at the scene of the crime.
Neither of them were the defendants in the case.
Jeremy Dolnick, the defendant’s attorney, said, “Gianni had a tough case to fight in light of Norma, Diane and Julie all testifying against him.
“Based upon the contradictions in their testimony among the three witnesses and in light of Gianni’s testimony, and the character witnesses who talked about his personality, we felt that there would be enough for reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. We are disappointed but understand the reasons for the jury’s verdict.”
Following the murder, while the police were conducting an investigation, Van and Esparza got married in Las Vegas to invoke a privilege banning testimony against a spouse, Murray said. The case couldn’t progress from there.
However, a breakthrough was achieved when the DNA from the blood on the victim matched with that found in the transmission shop where Ramirez was held and subsequently beaten to death.
Van and Esparza ended their marriage in 2006.
In 2012, Esparza, then living in France with her husband and young daughter, visited Boston and was arrested. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreed she would testify against the accused in the case. She will be sentenced to a prison term of six years in September.
In his closing arguments, Murray told the jurors, “Not only did he (Van) butcher him, but then he threw his reputation and his good name out the window by alleging him to be a rapist,” according to Reuters.
Shannon Ray Gries, Van’s accomplice in the murder, will face trial for murder in July.
Diane Tran also pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She will be given a sentence of four years in prison in June.
Another of Van’s accomplices involved in the killing died in a shootout with the police in 2012.
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