TODAY   |  November 22, 2013

Woman in jail for the death of her alleged rapist

A university professor from the U.S., now living and working in Switzerland, is behind bars for allegedly helping to murder the man she says raped her 18 years ago. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> with a young mother and professor who is now in custody for her alleged involvement in an 18-year-old cold case in california. the murder of someone she alleges raped her. mike has details.

>> reporter: 39-year-old psychology professor never thought it would end this way. a hug from her husband and then lead from a courtroom in handcuffs. 18 years ago a man was found brutally beaten to death outside an auto repair shop in orange county california. she says ramirez raped her in a dorm room and when she told a boyfriend about it he hunted him down and killed him. she was forced to go along but didn't see the kilg.

>> i had no way to stop it. instead, she says she lived with the secret and resumed her journey to a ph.d. and teaching post in switzerland and motherhood but the ramirez killing was never solved and last year they arrested her on charges of murder and kidnapping when she returned to the u.s. for a conference.

>> she is not a victim on this case. she is a defendant on this case.

>> they believe she was never really the target even producing a detective's e-mail saying she was not a person of interest or a suspect.

>> the prosecutor thought she was a murderer, why would they release her on bail. why would they give her her passport.

>> reporter: what prosecutors did was to solicit her version of events leading to the arrest of three other suspects that all pleaded not guilty. they offered her a three year sentence in exchange to a guilty employee of involuntary manslaughter. she decline add piering with her husband and daughter.

>> kissing her child in front of the cameras and trying to get sympathy.

>> reporter: it had no impact in court. her bail revoked, she face ace trial that could result in a sentence of life in prison . for today, nbc news los angeles .

>>> let's get more from lisa bloom . lisa, good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> here we have a case where the defendant is claiming that the person who was killed was her alleged rapist. does that have any bearing on her legal defense ? is it a relevant issue in the case?

>> i think it's relevant and garners sympathy for her. she's going to say i was a rape victim. i was traumatized. i told my boyfriend about it. what happened after that was beyond my control.

>> this defendant claims that she didn't participate in the murder. that she wasn't present at the murder. so how do prosecutors arrive at a murder charge against her?

>> well, there are four defendants now. i assume that the prosecutions strategy is going to be to try to get at least one of them to flip and testify against the others. whoever does the deal first tends to get the best deal. so at least one of them i expect is going to turn state's evidence and testify.

>> people may have noticed something in the piece we just show which had is this defendant claims she actually got a letter from a detective saying you are not a person of interest in this case. you are not a suspect. so she cooperated with them and has turned around and faces a murder charge. is this par for the course ? this is something that happens all the time in police investigations or is there something unseemly about that?

>> first of all, she may not have been a person of interest at the time the detective said that but people can and do lie to people to get them to confess and give statements. anything you say can and will be used against you regardless of what the police tell you.

>> she was offered a deal, plead guilty and get three years in prison. she declined that deal. was that a smart move?

>> three years in prison is a long time if she's innocent but if she is guilty of conspiring to commit murder, then that's a sweet deal for her.

>> always good to get your perspective. thank you.