The question of whether three teenagers will have to answer for the shooting death of a 21-year-old Riverbank man will soon be decided by a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge.
A preliminary hearing for Daniel Pantoja, 18, of Riverbank, Turlock Diaz, 14, and Jah-Kari Phyall, 15, both of Turlock, is expected to conclude Monday and Judge Scott Steffen will rule whether the three will be held over for trial for the death of Chaz Bettencourt on Aug. 5, 2010 outside an AM/PM store in Riverbank.
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Brennan said Bettencourt and a friend, David Gomez, had driven to the convenience store to buy soda and were accosted by the three suspects in the parking lot. According to the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, the suspects were attempting to take the men’s vehicle. Gomez went back into the store to ask the clerk to call 911 and then heard several shots ring out. He ran back outside to find Bettencourt suffering from multiple gunshot wounds and the suspects fleeing on foot. Bettencourt was transported to Doctors Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
A preliminary hearing is being held to determine if the three suspects should stand trial on felony murder charges, as well as 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.
The prosecution has called several witnesses and investigators to speak about the case but perhaps the most compelling evidence presented, and possibly the most damning, are two video surveillance footage discs from the night of the fatal shooting. The first video is from the Star Market in Riverbank that shows the three suspects milling around inside the store before purchasing some energy drinks and chips. The video clearly shows faces and clothing and also shows two of the suspects picking up a pack of cigars and putting them back down again. The cigar pack was later retrieved and the fingerprints matched those of Diaz and Pantoja, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department crime scene technician Diana Kirk.
The second video was recorded a short time later at the AM/PM in Riverbank and shows three males confronting a man in the parking lot and putting a gun into his face. Though the suspects’ faces are not clearly visible, the clothing worn by the three suspects matches that from the previous video.
Though the shooting itself was not shown, the images were too much for Bettencourt’s mother who left the courtroom visibly shaken on Thursday.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Detective Jim McQueary testified a shell casing from a 22-caliber handgun was recovered at the crime scene and a subsequent search of Diaz’s Turlock home turned up a white shirt with blood stains on it.
Phyall was arrested Aug. 12, 2010 in Modesto. Five weeks after the fatal shooting, Diaz and Pantoja were taken into custody in Redding.
Pantoja was implicated in a Redding beating that severely injured one man. The beating was captured on video surveillance and McQueary testified Pantoja’s MySpace account had a link to watch the video with the comment allegedly made by Pantoja of “Get ur (sic) money. Me and the homie (expletive) a scrap.” Scrap is a term used by Nortenos to refer to their rivals, the Surenos.
The prosecution is expected to continue laying out their case about the suspects alleged gang involvement over the years.
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