If Convicted, Professor Faces Life In Prison, Denies Murder Charges
There was an emotional moment because one mom may not get to hug her daughter again for a very long time.
Professor Patricia Esparza was about to walk into an Orange County, California courtroom to face a murder charge that could send her away for life.
INSIDE EDITION asked, "How are you feeling at this moment?"
"I'm very, very nervous," Patricia said.
Minutes later a bailiff slaps the cuffs on the 39-year-old psychology professor after the judge orders her held without bail. But, is this soft-spoken academic a cold blooded killer, or is she the victim of a crime?
Prosecutors say nearly 20 years ago, when she was a 20-year-old college student, Patricia conspired to kidnap and murder a man who allegedly raped her.
"Do you believe you are guilty of kidnapping and murder?" asked INSIDE EDITION's Jim Moret.
"No. No," stated Patricia.
On what would be her her last day of freedom, Patricia sat down with INSIDE EDITION.
"What's more frightening to me than anything, is the possibility of losing my daughter," she said.
Patricia says a man who she dated one time, Gonzalo Ramirez, raped her in her dorm room when she was a sophomore at prestigious Pomona College in 1995. She never reported the alleged rape to police. But days later, she spotted Ramirez in a bar and told her ex-boyfriend about the alleged sexual assault.
Moret asked, "Did you know what was going to happen?"
"I was in shock. I had no idea what was happening," she replied.
Patricia says her ex-boyfriend and his friends grabbed Ramirez. Later, she says they took her to see his badly beaten body.
"I walked up the stairs and at the top I saw Ramirez. He was bloodied. He was beaten. He looked up at me and started talking," Patricia tearfully recalled.
The body was found several miles away, bludgeoned and hacked. Patricia insists she wasn't there when the murder took place. She says she was so afraid of her boyfriend she didn't tell police what she knew. She kept quiet for nearly two decades and the case went cold.
Patricia went on to earn her Ph.D. She now teaches at Webster University in Switzerland. The years passed. Then, detectives reopened the cold case. They reached out to the professor and she voluntarily flew to California from her home in Europe.
"If you'd stayed quiet, you could be in Geneva enjoying your life and nothing would happen to you," said Moret.
"I wanted to come forward because I was taking the opportunity to actually find and seek justice once and for all," she said.
Prosecutors offered Patricia a deal to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and serve three years in prison. She rejected the deal. What came next was a shock to her. Patricia was charged with first degree murder, which could mean life in prison without parole.
Her husband, Jorge Mancillas, a neurobiologist gave her one last goodbye. He's afraid that his 95 pound wife could be a target in jail.
"It's very hard to live with the idea that at this moment my wife is being put in a prison surrounded by criminals. She's small, she's petite, she's frail," said Mancillas.
But Orange County prosecutor Scott Simmons says Patricia has to pay for the killing.
"The focus on this case is not necessarily her as a victim in a rape case. The focus in this case is the person who was tortured," said Simmons.
Patricia's ex-boyfriend and the others have also been charged with murder and have pled not guilty.
Now, Patricia is behind bars in the toughest fight of her life.