Defense attorneys question credibility of witness in Riverbank murder trial

09/10/2013 8:27 PM

09/10/2013 9:59 PM

Defense attorneys on Tuesday questioned the credibility of a witness who was held at gunpoint outside a Riverbank convenience store shortly before his friend was gunned down during a suspected botched carjacking.

Daniel Pantoja, Turlock Diaz and Jah-Kari Phyall are on trial charged with murder in the death of 21-year-old Chaz Bettencourt.

The attorneys pointed to inconsistencies in the testimony of David Gomez, who said he escaped into the convenience store moments before Bettencourt was shot in the parking lot Aug. 5, 2010. The shooting occurred at the AM-PM mini-mart at Patterson and Oakdale roads in Riverbank.

Gomez testified Monday that Diaz held a gun to his face and demanded the keys to his Honda Accord. He said he backed away into the view of store security cameras before struggling with Phyall momentarily and escaping into the store.

In a June 2011 preliminary hearing, Gomez identified Pantoja as the gunman. Gomez said in court Tuesday that he made a mistake in his testimony because he was intimidated after seeing the defendants in the courtroom for the first time since the shooting. He said he corrected his testimony during the preliminary hearing.

Not long after the shooting, Gomez identified Diaz as the gunman in a photo lineup, according to investigators. During cross-examination Tuesday, Gomez made it clear that Pantoja did not brandish a gun that night.

A .22 caliber handgun, believed to have been used to shoot Bettencourt, was recovered not far from the shooting scene. Investigators didn’t find any identifiable fingerprints on the handgun or on shell casings found at the scene.

Gomez also testified in the preliminary hearing that one of the men was wearing a red shirt, the other a dark blue shirt and the third a white shirt.

The witness on Tuesday said he did not know who was wearing which shirt on the night of the shooting, even though he has said Diaz was the gunman, Phyall tried to stop him from escaping and Pantoja was the third man.

Along with the murder charge, the defendants are accused of attempted carjacking. Prosecutors have added enhancements, claiming the crimes were committed for the benefit of the Norteño street gang. If convicted, the enhancements could increase the punishment.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

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