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Two convicted for fatal carjacking, one acquitted

Verdicts split for Turlock teenagers

Two convicted for fatal carjacking, one acquitted

Daniel Pantoja

POSTED October 29, 2013 8:59 p.m.



Two Stanislaus County juries have convicted two men of murdering a Riverbank man during an attempted carjacking, while acquitting a third of all charges.

One jury returned a guilty verdict Monday against Turlock Diaz, 18, of Turlock on a charge of first-degree murder and attempted carjacking. The same jury acquitted Jah-Kari Phyall, 18, of Turlock for the same charges.

On Tuesday, a second jury came back with a guilty verdict on first-degree murder and attempted carjacking charges against Daniel Pantoja, 21, of Riverbank.

All the charges stemmed from a 2010 shooting that left 21-year-old Chaz Bettencourt mortally wounded outside a Riverbank convenience store.

On the night of Aug. 5, 2010, Bettencourt and his friend David Gomez went to the store to buy some soda. In the parking lot the two men were confronted by the trio in what the district attorney’s office described as a carjacking that turned deadly.

Gomez testified that as they left the store, Diaz put a gun to his head and demanded cash and his car keys. Gomez said he backed away from Diaz and into the store and was asking the clerk to call 911 when he heard the gunshots.

The store’s video surveillance shown to the jury collaborated Gomez’s recollection of that night.

Bettencourt was shot twice in the chest at close range. Gomez said he ran to his friend and saw the three men running from the parking lot. Bettencourt was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

All three men were also charged with committing the crimes to benefit the Norteno street gang. The prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan, contended Diaz and Pantoja were Norteno gang members and Phyall was a gang associate. Neither jury convicted on the gang enhancement charges.

Pantoja had his own jury during the trial because his defense attorney, Robert Winston, successfully argued that some of the statements Phyall made to investigators were prejudicial to Pantoja. His jury left the courtroom when Phyall testified.

Phyall was the only one of the three defendants to take the stand and testify.

He testified Pantoja brought the gun and used it to rob an ice cream vendor earlier that night and wanted to rob two elderly women, but Diaz and Phyall objected.

Phyall said it was Diaz who fired the shots that ended Bettencourt’s life and that he did so after Bettencourt threw his cash at Diaz.

During questioning from his defense attorney Frank Carson, Phyall stated he was unaware of what Diaz and Pantoja were planning for that night. He believed they were going to a party. He said Diaz threatened him with the gun to go along with the robbery.

Diaz’s attorney, Martin Baker, argued his client was under the influence of Four-Loko, an alcohol and energy drink that adversely affected his impulse control.

Diaz was 14 and Phyall 15 at the time of the shooting, but both were tried as adults. Pantoja was 18 years old at the time.

Diaz could be facing 50 years to life, while Pantoja could get 25 years to life. They will be back in court on Nov. 8.



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