Second guilty verdict in fatal botched carjacking

10/29/2013 12:09 PM

10/29/2013 10:47 PM

The third defendant in a fatal Riverbank shooting was found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted carjacking. Jurors returned the verdicts Tuesday morning against Daniel Pantoja, the third defendant in the case.

A separate jury that considered the case against Pantoja-s co-defendants, Turlock Diaz and Jah-Kari Phyall on Monday returned a guilty verdict against Diaz and acquitted Phyall.

Pantoja and Diaz were convicted of first-degree murder and attempted carjacking in the shooting death of Chaz Bettencourt, 21.

Bettencourt was killed in front of the AM-PM minimart at Patterson and Oakdale roads. Phyall, the lone defendant to testify, said Pantoja initially had the gun and used it to rob an ice cream vendor several hours earlier that day.

Prosecutors said the defendants were trying to steal a car belonging to David Gomez, a friend of Bettencourt’s, when the shooting occurred about 12:40 a.m. Aug. 5, 2010. Bettencourt and friend David Gomez were leaving the minimart when they were accosted at gunpoint.

Store security cameras caught footage of part of the confrontation, but not the shooting. Brennan said during the trial that Bettencourt was shot twice in his chest and staggered for about 20 yards before he collapsed. One of the bullets ripped through his heart and lungs.

Defense attorney Robert Winston argued during trial that the footage from the security camera showed his client at the shooting scene, but no involvement. Winston was not in court Tuesday.

"Pantoja's reign of terror is over,” Brennan said Tuesday after the verdict. “He now will suffer the consequences of choosing a life of violent crime.”

Pantoja, 21, is set to return to Stanislaus County Superior Court for a sentencing hearing Nov. 8. The mandatory sentence is 25 years to life. Diaz also is set to return to court for a sentencing hearing Nov. 8.

Judge Thomas Zeff set the hearing for a date when Winston and the trial judge, Scott Steffen, will be available. Zeff stood in for Steffen on Tuesday, while attorney Stephen appeared in place of Winston.

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