Gang Members Found Guilty of 2008 Homeless Encampment Killings in Long Beach

Defendants David Cruz Ponce, 36, and Max Eliseo Rafael, 31. File photo.

Two gang members were found guilty Friday of killing five people at a homeless encampment in Long Beach in 2008, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

David Cruz Ponce, 36, and Max Eliseo Rafael, 31, were convicted of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping by jurors who deliberated for a day.

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, officials stated.

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

Prosecutors said Ponce and Rafael shot and killed Lorenzo Villicana, Katherine Verdun, Hamid Shraifat, Frederick Neumeier and Vanessa Malaepule on November 1, 2008. All five victims lived in a homeless encampment near a 405 freeway off-ramp.

(From left to right) Victims Vanessa Malaepule, 34, Jose Lorenzo Villicana, 44, Katherine Lynn Verdun, 24, Frederick Doyle Neumeier, 53, and Hamid Shraifat, 41.

The two defendants talked about the murders in recorded jailhouse conversations, said Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Barnes of the Major Crimes Division who prosecuted the case.

Ponce was also convicted of kidnapping and murdering Tony Bledsoe on March 23, 2009.


The death penalty phase for Ponce begins September 27, officials stated. Rafael faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is set to be sentenced November 15.

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

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.