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Gang members guilty of killing five at Long Beach homeless encampment

A jury on Sept. 22 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 in the deaths of Vanessa Malaepule, 34; Frederick Doyle Neumeier; 53, Hamid Shraifat, 41; Katherine Verdun, 24; and Lorenzo Perez Villicana, 44.

The men also were found guilty of one count of kidnapping each.

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, Malaepule, Neumeier, Shraifat, Verdun and Villicana were found fatally shot at a camp of tents near the 405 Freeway.

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

Ponce also was 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.

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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