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Jury: LB homeless camp killer Ponce should receive death penalty

Last month, Ponce and Max Eliseo Rafael were found guilty of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping

Compton Herald | Ponce
Booking photos of David Cruz Ponce (left) and Max Eliseo Rafael.

Ponce nailed for total of six murders, kidnapping, weapons possession, enhancements; sentencing is Nov. 27

LOS ANGELES — A jury has recommended the death penalty for a gang member convicted of murdering five people at a Long Beach homeless encampment nine years ago, the Compton Herald has learned.

The panel sentenced David Cruz Ponce, 37, to death after deliberating for about two hours. Ponce will return to court for sentencing on Nov. 27.

Last month, Ponce and co-defendant Max Eliseo Rafael, 31, were found guilty of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping. The jury also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during a kidnapping and murder while the defendants were active participants in a criminal street gang.

Ponce also was found guilty of an additional count of murder and kidnapping and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Deputy District Atty. Cynthia Barnes of the Major Crimes Division prosecuted the case.

Ponce and Rafael fatally shot Lorenzo Villicana, Katherine Verdun, Hamid Shraifat, Frederick Neumeier, and Vanessa Malaepule on Nov. 1, 2008. All five victims lived in a homeless encampment near an off ramp of the 405 Freeway in Long Beach.

The prosecutor said jailhouse conversations of the two defendants were recorded as they talked about the murders.

Ponce also was convicted of the kidnap and murder of Tony Bledsoe on March 23, 2009.

Rafael faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16.

The case was a joint investigation by the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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