[L.A. County District Attorney] – Two alleged members of a Watts criminal street gang were charged Wednesday with the 2008 shooting deaths of three men and two women slain in a homeless encampment flanking the 405 freeway in Long Beach.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Harmon of the Major Crimes Division said David Cruz Ponce, 31, and Max Eliseo Rafael, 25, are each charged with five special circumstance murders.
Ponce and Rafael are expected to be arraigned tomorrow in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center. They are charged in case No. BA392902.
The complaint lists the special circumstance allegations of murder in the commission of the crime of kidnapping, murder of witnesses to a crime intentionally killed because of that fact and murder while the defendants were active participants in a criminal street gang.
Ponce and Rafael are additionally charged with one count each of kidnapping to commit another crime and conspiracy to commit a crime. The charging document also lists gun and gang allegations.
Ponce and Rafael purportedly of the Nuthood Watts criminal street gang are accused of fatally shooting Lorenzo Villicana, Katherine Verdun, Hammid Shraifat, Frederick Neumeier and Vanessa Malaepule on Nov. 1, 2008.
The victims were residents of a homeless encampment located on the Santa Fe off ramp of the 405 freeway. The crimes were investigated by the Long Beach Police Department.
Ponce is additionally charged with the kidnapping and murder of Tony Bledsoe of Lancaster on March 23, 2009. In that matter, Ponce is charged with one count each of murder and kidnapping to commit another crime with a special circumstance allegation that Bledsoe was killed while the defendant was engaged in the crime of kidnapping. Bledsoe’s murder was investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Ponce is also charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. The charges include gun and gang allegations. The criminal complaint indicates Ponce has three felony convictions from 2003 for second-degree robbery, first-degree residential burglary and possession of a controlled substance.
Ponce and Rafael also have been linked to a 2010 murder plot involving a rival gang member which was foiled by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who apprehended Ponce and other Nuthood Watts gang members before the plan could be executed.