Jurors in a trial on Wednesday viewed security camera footage of what authorities have called a botched carjacking that left a man shot to death outside a Riverbank convenience store.
Daniel Pantoja, Turlock Diaz and Jah-Kari Phyall are charged with murder and attempted carjacking in the death of 21-year-old Chaz Bettencourt of Riverbank.
About 12:40 a.m. Aug. 5, 2010, Bettencourt and his friend, David Gomez, had just arrived at the am-pm minimarket at Patterson and Oakdale roads. Investigators believe the defendants were trying to steal Gomez's car when Bettencourt was shot.
The video shown to the jurors comes from two security cameras at the minimarket.
The cameras each had a different angle: One focused on the gas pumps and a portion of the parking lot just outside the store's front doors, while the other focused inside the store near the front entrance. In the second, a portion of the front parking lot can be seen through the glass doors.
Gomez is seen parking his car in front of the store and getting out as three young males, walking from behind, approach the front of the store. Gomez and Bettencourt walk into the store as the three other males split up.
It appears that three males wait outside while Gomez and Bettencourt shop inside the store. A few minutes later, Gomez and Bettencourt walk out of the store, and the three other males approach them again from behind.
One of the suspects is seen holding a gun to the back of Gomez's head, before he realizes what's happening and turns around. As the gunman continues pointing the gun at Gomez, who backs away from his attackers, the two other suspects follow the gunman.
The camera inside the store shows Gomez escape the gunman but run into one of the other suspects, who momentarily keeps Gomez from escaping into the store. Once Gomez gets into the store, he asks the clerk for help.
Then, Gomez is seen peeking out the front door, before walking out of the store with the store clerk following him. The store's security cameras did not capture the shooting.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan has told the jurors that it was Diaz who held the gun to Gomez's head, demanding the car keys. The prosecutor also has said all three defendants tried to rob Gomez that night, and it was Phyall who tried to stop Gomez from escaping into the store.
Gomez was inside the store when he heard two gunshots; Bettencourt was still outside. Brennan said Diaz shot Bettencourt twice in his chest with a .22 caliber handgun, which investigators found about 100 yards from the shooting scene.
Attorneys blame other suspects
Robert Winston, Pantoja's defense attorney, has told jurors that the store security camera footage shows his client at the shooting scene, but it was Diaz who held Gomez at gunpoint and Phyall who tried to stop Gomez from escaping.
"Too bad he didn't pick better friends," Winston said in his opening statement Tuesday. "You will see that Danny Pantoja really didn't do anything to assist the other two (defendants)."
Frank Carson, Phyall's attorney, has said in court that his client was just standing near the store's front doors when Gomez pushed past Phyall to get inside the minimarket.
Martin Baker, Diaz's attorney, says his client consumed Four Loko, a mixture of alcohol and energy stimulants in a can, before the encounter with Gomez and Bettencourt. The attorney also says an expert will testify that the Four Loko drinks could have resulted in "increased impulsivity" in Diaz on the night of the shooting.
The courtroom has been rearranged to accommodate two juries participating in the trial. One jury will will determine Pantoja's fate, while the other decides what happens to Diaz and Phyall.
The counsel's table, which usually faces the judge, now faces the jury box. This way, one of the juries sitting in the courtroom audience can still see the faces of the attorneys and the clients during testimony.
The judge decided having two juries was the best way to ensure potentially prejudicial testimony won't prevent Pantoja from receiving a fair trial. The monthlong trial continues today with more testimony in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.