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Second gang member sentenced to death for 2008 homeless encampment killing

A second gang member was sentenced Feb. 15 in the killings of five people at a Long Beach homeless encampment in 2008, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. 

David Cruz Ponce, 37, was sentenced to death by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo after jurors previously recommended the death penalty as part of a verdict for the murders.

On Sept. 17, Ponce and co-defendant Max Eliseo Rafael, 31, 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 shootings occurred Nov. 1, 2008, in a homeless camp near an offramp of the 405 Freeway in Long Beach, 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 also were convicted of one count each of kidnapping as well as gang allegations. 

Ponce also was found guilty of the 2009 murder of Tony Bledsoe, 18, whose body was found in Lake Los Angeles. 

In January, Rafael was sentenced to five consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole. 

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

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