ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY PRESS RELEASE
Date: April 14, 2015
*One co-defendant awaits jury trial in this case and two other co-defendants await sentencing in this case
SANTA ANA – A man will face trial tomorrow for the 1995 cold case kidnapping and stabbing-murder of another man. Gianni Anthony Van, 45, Costa Mesa, is charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping. Van faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Opening statements are scheduled to begin tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Co-defendant Diane Tran, 46, Costa Mesa, pleaded guilty on Jan. 24, 2014, to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter with a sentencing enhancement for being armed with a firearm during the commission of a felony. She faces a maximum sentence of four years at her sentencing on June 12, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41.
Co-defendant Shannon Ray Gries, 44, Santa Ana, is charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping and a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a firearm. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. He is scheduled for jury trial on July 17, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41.
Co-defendant Norma Particia Esparza, 40, France, pleaded guilty on Sept. 12, 2014, to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter. She is expected to be sentenced to six years in state prison at her sentencing on Sept. 11, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41.
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 was a college student in Pomona. Van is accused of having a romantic relationship with Esparza. After they ended the relationship, Esparza returned to Orange County to visit her sister.
On 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, Van is accused of receiving a phone call from Esparza who told him about Ramirez.
Late on the night of April 15, 1995, Van and Gries are accused of meeting with Esparza and another friend at Accurate Transmission in Costa Mesa, owned by Kody Tran. Van and Gries are accused of going with Esparza to El Cortez that night and having Ramirez pointed out by Esparza.
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. The defendants are accused of threatening the victim’s friend who saw the attack and attempted to help the victim.
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 were 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 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 in October 2012, landing in Boston, she was arrested and extradited back to Orange County to face charges related to Ramirez’s murder.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.
TONY RACKAUCKAS, District Attorney
Susan Kang Schroeder, Chief of Staff