SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A psychology professor charged with murder said Wednesday she has been told by California prosecutors to plead guilty to a crime she didn't commit or they will move to have her jailed this week.
In a rare news conference by a murder defendant, Norma Esparza said the Orange County district attorney's office was trying to get her to take a plea deal in connection with the murder of Gonzalo Ramirez, a man she says raped her after she met him at a bar 18 years ago as a student at Pomona College.
"The principle of what they're asking me is to plead guilty to something that they know I am not responsible for," Esparza said outside the Santa Ana courthouse flanked by her husband and 4-year-old daughter. "It would essentially be a lie."
Esparza, who previously testified about the case before a grand jury, declined to reveal details of the deal she said was offered by prosecutors. She said they are pressuring her to enter a plea after getting her testimony.
The 39-year-old, who teaches at an American university in Geneva, said the case sends a chilling message to victims of sexual abuse who already fear coming forward to authorities.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the allegations but said defendants are often unhappy when they are charged with a crime.
"She wants to try this case with the media," said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the district attorney's office. "We filed this case because we have the evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."
A message left for Esparza's defense attorney, Robert Corrado, was not immediately returned.
Esparza is one of four people charged with Ramirez's death. The other three defendants, including Esparza's ex-boyfriend Gianni Van, were indicted by a grand jury earlier this year.
Esparza is due in court for a hearing on Thursday.
Esparza's husband Jorge Mancillas told reporters that Esparza was raped when she was a student in 1995 by a man she met the night before. She later confided in Van about the rape and he took her to a bar and had her identify Ramirez as the man who assaulted her, Mancillas said.
Later that night, she was taken to a transmission shop and shown a bloodied Ramirez while someone waved a gun and threatened her, Mancillas said.
He said Van told her Ramirez was later released. She only learned he had been killed when she was interviewed by police weeks later, Mancillas said.
Prosecutors say Esparza was one of five people who killed Ramirez. One of them is no longer living.
Esparza was born in Mexico and moved with her family to Santa Ana as a child. She obtained a doctorate in psychology and worked as a consultant for the World Health Organization in Europe. She was arrested in October 2012 when she traveled to the United States and said she spent two months in jail before she was released on $300,000 bail.
More than 600 people have signed a petition on change.org urging prosecutors to drop the case against Esparza.