Sex Crimes

California jury convicts professor's ex-boyfriend of 1995 murder of man she says raped her

A Southern California jury on Thursday convicted a psychology professor's ex-boyfriend of the murder of a man she said raped her two decades ago.

Orange County jurors found Gianni Van, 45, guilty of one count of murder during the commission of a kidnapping, court spokeswoman Gwen Vieau said.

Van is scheduled to be sentenced July 10. His lawyer, Jeremy Dolnick, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Authorities contend that in April 1995, then-college student Norma Patricia Esparza told Van — who until recently had been her boyfriend — that Gonzalo Ramirez raped her after meeting her at a Santa Ana bar.

An enraged Van and others followed Ramirez out of the nightclub, rear-ended him, kidnapped him and killed him, prosecutors said. They dumped his stabbed, bloodied body on the side of a road in Irvine.

Authorities contend that after the killing, Van and Esparza entered into a sham marriage to avoid prosecution. Van was arrested in 1996 but was released because Esparza could not be forced to testify against her husband.

Esparza — who went on to become a psychology professor in Europe — divorced Van and was arrested when she traveled to the United States in 2012.

The case drew international attention as sexual assault victim advocates rallied behind Esparza, saying her prosecution sent a chilling message to rape survivors.

Under a plea deal last year, Esparza pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She is expected to receive a six-year sentence in exchange for testifying at the trials of Van and another person. A fourth defendant also pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.