A 14-year-old boy accused in the shooting death of a 21-year-old Riverbank man will be tried as an adult for murder and attempted carjacking.
Prosecutors filed the felony charges Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court against Turlock Diaz, 14, and co-defendant Daniel Pantoja, 18.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan said Diaz, Pantoja and a third suspect, 15-year-old Jah-Kari Phyall, face 75 years to life if convicted. Phyall was arraigned last month as an adult on the same charges.
“When a grievous crime is committed, it doesn’t matter if they’re 14 or 18,” Brennan said. “It’s so egregious, there’s no reason for me to treat them as juveniles.”
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Diaz and Pantoja were expected to be arraigned Wednesday at the downtown Modesto courthouse, but Judge Scott Steffen postponed the hearing until Sept. 23 to give Diaz a chance to find a private attorney.
Diaz and Pantoja were arrested Monday in Redding, about a month after authorities apprehended Phyall.
Police said Chaz Bettencourt was at the wrong place at the wrong time when the three suspects allegedly tried to carjack Bettencourt, then shot him outside a Riverbank convenience store.
The charges against Diaz and Pantoja mirror a county and statewide trend: The number of juveniles going through the adult criminal system is rising.
From 2004 to 2008, the number of Stanislaus County minors tried in adult court has more than tripled.
And only a year ago, a boy who was 14 years old when he shot a man to death during a drive-by was handed a sentence of 132 years to life - the longest juvenile prison commitment probation officials could recall in their two decades working for the county.
Bettencourt’s mother, Michelle, said she was shocked the defendants were so young. But she said their actions merit a life sentence, not mercy.
“I would just tell them that they didn’t even know who they took,” Bettencourt said, so overcome with grief she collapsed outside the courtroom.
At 12:40 a.m. on Aug. 5, Bettencourt was shot outside the am-pm minimarket at Patterson and Oakdale roads where he and a friend had gone to buy soft drinks.
Brennan said the evidence doesn’t clearly show who the shooter was. But because all three were allegedly involved in the attempted carjacking, the law allows each teenager to be held responsible for the murder that allegedly occurred at the same time, Brennan said.
Authorities and family members said Bettencourt rode to the mini-mart in his friend’s car and they went inside to make their purchases. As they came out of the store, they were confronted by three men. The assailants demanded the friend’s car and an altercation ensued.
The friend ran back into the store to tell the clerk to call 911, when one or more shots were fired in the parking lot.
Diaz, Pantoja and Phyall are being held on $4 million bail.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at 578-2337.