- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - A college professor’s ex-boyfriend was convicted Thursday of killing a man she said had raped her 20 years ago.

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

He faces a maximum of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced July 10 for the April 1995 slaying.

Authorities contend that Norma Patricia Esparza, then a college student, told Van 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.

Under a deal reached with prosecutors last year, she 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.

Van’s attorney, Jeremy Dolnick, said it was difficult to overcome the testimony of Esparza and others. He added he had hoped jurors would take into account the testimony of defense witnesses who vouched for Van’s good character.

“We are disappointed but understand the reasons for the jury’s verdict,” he said.

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

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