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Local

Prosecutors Will Seek Death Penalty In Homeless Encampment Slayings

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against one of two reputed gang members charged in the shooting deaths of five people at a Long Beach homeless encampment just over five years ago, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

David Cruz Ponce, 33, was charged in the Nov. 1, 2008 slayings of Hamid Shraifat, 41, of Signal Hill; Vanessa Malaepule, 34, of Carson; and Frederick Doyle Neumeier, 53, Katherine Verdun, 24, and Jose Lorenzo Villacana, 44, all of Long Beach.

Death will not be sought for co-defendant Max Eliseo Rafael, 27, but he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of the killings, which happened at an encampment near the San Diego (405) Freeway’s Santa Fe Avenue offramp.

Murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of murder during a kidnapping, murder of witnesses to a crime, murder while participating in a criminal street gang and multiple murders.

Ponce is also charged with the March 23, 2009 kidnapping and murder of Tony Bledsoe of Lancaster, along with two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Ponce and Rafael were also accused of kidnapping Shraifat – who police say was forced at gunpoint to lead the assailants to the encampment where Villicana was living. The two suspects were also accused of conspiring to commit murder involving an alleged 2010 plot to retaliate over a fellow gang member’s killing.

“I’d like to make it clear that these victims were not targeted because they were homeless,” Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said earlier. “This encounter stemmed from a personal vendetta of one of the suspects as the result of an ongoing dispute with one of the victims over narcotics. The other victims were killed to ensure that there were no witnesses to this crime.”

Ponce and Rafael remain jailed without bail while waiting a pretrial hearing Jan. 15.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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