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September 16, 2013

Gang investigator: Defendant never said he took part in fatal Riverbank shooting

A gang investigator on Monday testified that a defendant accused of murder never said he was an active participant in a Riverbank shooting in which a 21-year-old man was killed during a suspected botched carjacking.

A gang investigator on Monday testified that a defendant accused of murder never said he participated in a Riverbank shooting in which a 21-year-old man was killed during a botched carjacking.

Redding police Cpl. Rex Barry returned to the witness stand Monday for cross-examination in a trial for Daniel Pantoja, Turlock Diaz and Jah-Kari Phyall. The defendants are charged with murder and attempted carjacking in the death of Chaz Bettencourt of Riverbank.

Barry’s testimony focused on what he said Pantoja told him in September 2010, about a month after Bettencourt was killed in Riverbank. Pantoja was taken into custody in Redding in connection with an assault there.

Barry said Pantoja brought up the Riverbank shooting during questioning. Barry testified that Pantoja said he knew he had been identified as a suspect in the shooting and had seen news reports about Bettencourt’s death.

When the Redding gang investigator asked the defendant what he knew about the shooting, Pantoja told Barry, “Not much. I was there, but not there,” according to Barry.

Previous witnesses have said Diaz held David Gomez at gunpoint and demanded the car keys just outside the AM-PM minimarket at Patterson and Oakdale roads in Riverbank. Gomez testified that Phyall tried to stop him from escaping shortly before Bettencourt was shot about 12:40a.m. Aug.5, 2010.

Prosecutors allege that Pantoja was involved in the attempted carjacking and is, along with his co-defendants, responsible for Bettencourt’s death.

Robert Winston, Pantoja’s defense attorney, has told jurors that store security camera footage shows his client at the shooting scene, but that’s all.

Barry also testified that Pantoja has not yet been prosecuted in the alleged assault inside a Redding CircleK convenience store June6, 2010, two months before the Riverbank shooting. Pantoja’s co-defendant, Justin Plimpton, has been convicted of the Redding assault.

Redding authorities allege that Pantoja and Plimpton attacked a rival Sureño gang member inside the CircleK. Authorities claim that Pantoja and Plimpton are Norteño gang members.

During cross-examination Monday, Barry said Pantoja told him the victim, a suspected Sureño gang member, had been bothering Pantoja’s girlfriend before the assault.

The prosecution alleges that Pantoja, Diaz and Phyall committed the attempted carjacking in Riverbank to further promote the criminal activities of the Norteño street gang.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen told jurors Monday that the prosecution is expected to wrap up its case by the end of this week. The trial is expected to conclude next month.

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