Two men who authorities describe as gang members were convicted Friday in the murder of five people at a homeless encampment in Long Beach, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
Jurors found David Cruz Ponce, 36, and Max Eliseo Rafael, 31, guilty of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping. Ponce was also convicted of an additional count of murder and kidnapping and two counts of felon possession of a firearm.
Back in November 2008, Ponce and Rafael entered a secluded, vegetation-covered homeless encampment off the 405 and 710 freeways, in search of a man who allegedly owed them money for drugs, the Los Angeles Times reported.
That man was 44-year-old Lorenzo Villicana, and when the two didn’t find him after roaming around the area, police said they found Hamid Shraifat and forced him to lead them to the camp by kidnapping him at gunpoint, the Times reported.
In addition to fatally shooting Villicana over the drug debt, they killed the other four people because those victims had witnessed the first shooting, authorities said, according to the Times.
Prosecutors said the five people fatally shot were Vanessa Malaepule, Frederick Neumeier and Katherine Verdun, in addition to Shraifat and Villicana.
Both men spoke about the November 2008 slayings during jailhouse conversations that authorities recorded, prosecutors said.
Life in prison without the possibility of parole is the maximum sentence Rafael could receive when he is sentenced Nov. 15, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, the death penalty phase will begin for Ponce on Sept. 27.
He was also convicted in the 2009 kidnapping and murder of a man named Tony Bledsoe.