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Documented Gang Member Sentenced to Death for Murders of 5 at Long Beach Homeless Encampment

A second defendant has been sentenced in the deaths of five men who were murdered at a Long Beach homeless encampment nearly 10 years ago, officials said Thursday.

David Cruz Ponce and Max Eliseo Rafael were found guilty of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping. (Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

David Cruz Ponce and Max Eliseo Rafael were found guilty of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping. (Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

David Cruz Ponce, 37, was sentenced to death on Thursday after previously being convicted of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping last September, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The penalty was handed down about a month after 31-year-old Max Eliseo Rafael was given life in prison without parole on the same charges.

A jury affirmed the allegations that both men committed the killings during a kidnapping and while being actively involved in a gang, prosecutors said. The jury had also recommended the death penalty for Ponce, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In Ponce’s case, he was additionally convicted in the 2009 kidnapping and murder of Tony Bledsoe as well as two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Five people killed in a Long Beach homeless encampment in 2008 are shown in an undated photo. (Credit: Shown are the five people killed at a Long Beach homeless encampment in 2008. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Five people killed in a Long Beach homeless encampment in 2008 are shown in an undated photo. (Credit: Shown are the five people killed at a Long Beach homeless encampment in 2008. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Nov. 1, 2008, violence left five people dead at a homeless encampment near the 405 Freeway in Long Beach: Lorenzo Villicana, Katherine Verdun, Hamid Shraifat, Frederick Neumeier and Vanessa Malaepule.

Following a three-year investigation, authorities determined Ponce and Rafael had gone to the encampment in search of Villicana, who apparently owed them drug money, and opened fire on him, the L.A. Times reported.

They then “executed” the others to ensure there were no surviving witnesses to the crime, a police official told the newspaper in 2012. The Times was also told that Malaepule was not homeless and a mother of six.

A case was build against Ponce and Rafael after they were recorded discussing the murders in a jail, according to prosecutors. Both men had been arrested on separate charges, the Times reported.