Judge Upholds Murder Conviction from 2010 Attempted Carjacking

By Michele Chadwick

MODESTO, CA – Judge Nancy A. Leo oversaw a resentencing hearing here Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court for Daniel Pantoja, who was convicted of felony murder but petitioned the court to resentence him because he did not directly commit the murder.

However, the court here Monday found he didn’t qualify to be resentenced and will serve the remainder of his sentence.

The original incident occurred in 2010 when Pantoja was allegedly involved in an attempted carjacking that resulted in the murder of Chaz Bettencourt.

The incident occurred outside of a store where Pantoja, Jahkari Phyall, and Turlock Diaz confronted Bettencourt and David Gomez.

The plan, according to Pantoja, was to convince someone to buy them alcohol from the store because at the time all of them were teenagers. However, the teens did not ask Bettencourt for alcohol. The trio cornered Bettencourt and Gomez by their car in an attempt to steal their car.

Gomez, who had the keys to the car, ran toward the doors of the store. Pantoja testified that Phyall chased after him and wrestled him before Gomez made it into the store.

Pantoja testified that Diaz pointed the gun at him and “told him to go get Gomez” which he did not do.

Diaz pointed a gun at Bettencourt and demanded his money. Bettencourt pulled out his money and threw it at Diaz’s face. Diaz then shot Bettencourt twice in the chest at close range.

Pantoja claims that the last person he saw with the gun was Diaz and he did not provide the gun. Pantoja also testified that there was no discussion of carjacking or robbery prior to the incident.

Even though Pantoja did not directly shoot Bettencourt, he was convicted of murder. Pantoja’s conviction is based on his participation in the carjacking.

Penal code states that a participant in a felony can be found guilty of murder if they were a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.

The prosecution’s closing argument claims that there is evidence from trial to suggest that Pantoja provided the gun for Diaz.

The judge this week found Pantoja to be a major participant in the felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life. The motion to vacate the murder charge was denied.

While Pantoja will serve the remainder of his sentence, Diaz will not.

The juvenile justice reform Senate Bill 1391 from 2018 bars any child under the age of 16 from being tried as an adult.

At the time of his conviction, Diaz was 14 years old and tried as an adult. Diaz’s conviction falls under a retroactive condition. He was sentenced to two-year confinement in the Division of Juvenile Justice.

About The Author

Michele is a senior at UC Santa Barbara from Los Angles County.

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