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Gang member gets 5 life sentences for shooting deaths at Long Beach homeless camp

A gang member was sentenced Jan. 18 for the murders of five people at a Long Beach homeless encampment, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. 

Max Eliseo Rafael, 31, was sentenced to five consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole for the 2008 killings.

In September 2017, Rafael and co-defendant David Cruz Ponce, 37, were found guilty of five counts of murder in the deaths of Vanessa Malaepule, 34; Frederick Doyle Neumeier; 53, Hamid Shraifat, 41; Katherine Verdun, 24; and Lorenzo Perez Villicana, 44.  

The two men also were convicted of one count each of kidnapping as well as gang allegations. 

Additionally, Ponce was found guilty of the 2009 murder of Tony Bledsoe, 18, whose body was found in Lake Los Angeles. Jurors recommended the death penalty for Ponce, who is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 15. 

Rafael and Ponce shot to death the five people in Long Beach on Nov. 1, 2008, in a homeless encampment near an offramp of the 405 Freeway, prosecutors said.

Then-Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said the fatal encounter stemmed from an ongoing dispute with one of the victims over narcotics. The other four were killed to ensure there were no witnesses to the crime, he said at the time. 

Ponce and Rafael later admitted the shooting during recorded jailhouse conversations, prosecutors said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @jeromercampbell and @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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