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California gang members found guilty of killing 5


    David Ponce, left, and Max Rafael in a 2008 murder of five people at a homeless encampment, released during a news conference announcing the arrest of suspects in Long Beach, Calif.

LONG BEACH, Calif. >> Two gang members were found guilty today of killing five people at a homeless encampment near Los Angeles in a feud involving drug debts.

A jury found David Ponce and Max Rafael guilty of five counts of murder and one count of kidnapping, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

Prosecutors say Ponce and Rafael fatally shot three men and two women living at the encampment near a freeway off-ramp in Long Beach.

The November 2008 mass killing baffled investigators after the five bodies were found on a Sunday morning in the seedy neighborhood. A phone tip led authorities to the bodies.

Police said the motive was an ongoing feud over drug debts between Ponce and one of the victims, Lorenzo Villicana. Police believe the others were killed to ensure there were no witnesses.

Ponce, 36, also was convicted of the murder and kidnapping of a man named Tony Bledsoe in March 2009, allegedly because he had failed to hand over some drug money.

Ponce, who belonged to the Nuthood Watts criminal street gang, has the words “Nut” and “Hood” tattooed below his eyes.

Ponce could face the death penalty while Rafael, 31, could get life in prison when he’s sentenced on Nov. 15.

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