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Murder trial delayed for another year
Daniel Pantoja

The two Turlock teenagers and the Riverbank man accused of gunning down a 21-year-old man outside a convenience store will have to wait for almost a year before a Stanislaus County jury decides their fates.

Turlock Diaz, 15, and Jai-Kari Phyall, 16, both of Turlock and Daniel Pantoja, 20, of Riverbank are facing murder charges for the August 2010, death of Chaz Bettencourt, in what the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office describes as a failed carjacking.

The trio had on track for a jury trial to start this month, but scheduling conflicts among the three defense attorneys representing the defendants have forced an extended postponement. A new jury trial has been put on the court calendar for Aug. 5, 2013 — three years to the date of Bettencourt’s death.

In addition to the murder charges lodged against all three, the defendants are also accused of attempted carjacking. The prosecution is also laying out the claim that the alleged crimes were carried out for the benefit of the Norteno criminal street gang.

Bettencourt and his friend, David Gomez had driven to a Riverbank convenience store to buy soda and were allegedly confronted by the three suspects in the parking lot. 

In a preliminary hearing held in June 2011, Gomez testified that he was able to get away and ran into the store to call the police, which is when he heard two shots ring out. Gomez ran back out and found Bettencourt with multiple gunshot wounds. He testified he saw the three defendants running from the crime scene.

Bettencourt was rushed to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, where he died from his injuries.

The prosecution contends Diaz fired the fatal shots at Bettencourt.

Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department investigators were able to use video surveillance from the store to generate leads as to the suspects’ identities.

Phyall was arrested Aug. 12, 2011, in Modesto without incident.

Diaz and Pantoja were arrested in Redding after spending more than five weeks on the lam.

Phyall is held in custody in lieu of a $1million bail and Diaz and Pantoja are being held in lieu of a $4 million bail each.