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Gang members guilty of killing five at Long Beach homeless encampment

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Police Chief Jim McDonnell announces the arrest in 2012 of two suspects, David Ponce and Max Rafael, in the murders of five people at a homeless encampment in 2008.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A jury on Friday found two gang members guilty of murdering five people at a Long Beach homeless encampment, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

David Ponce, 36, and Max Rafael, 31, were convicted of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping.

The jury, which deliberated for one day, also found true the special circumstance allegations that the pair murdered someone during a kidnapping and were active participants in a criminal street gang.

In 2008, Vanessa Malaepule, Frederick Neumeier, Hamid Shraifat, Katherine Verdun and Lorenzo Villicana were found fatally shot at a camp of tents near the 405 Freeway.

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Four years later, prosecutors charged Rafael and Ponce, who had been recorded seemingly bragging about the killings to a jailhouse informant.

Ponce was also convicted of kidnapping and murdering Tony Bledsoe, whose body was found in 2009 in Lake Los Angeles.

The death penalty phase for Ponce is scheduled to begin Wednesday, while Rafael is expected to be sentenced in November.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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@corinaknoll


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