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Gregory Scott DICKENS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: September 10, 1991
Date of birth: April 7, 1965
Victims profile: Bryan and Laura Bernstein
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Yuma County, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on December 16, 1993

Date of Birth: April 7, 1965
Defendant: Caucasian
Victim: Caucasian

On the evening of September 10, 1991, Bryan and Laura Bernstein stopped at a rest area off of Interstate 8 outside of Yuma.

Dickens (26 years of age) and his 16-year-old accomplice, Travis Amaral, had been waiting near the rest area for "appropriate victims" to rob. Dickens told Amaral to "leave no witnesses."

When they saw the Bernsteins get out of their car, Amaral walked across the interstate hiding along his side a handgun Dickens had previously stolen, and approached the Bernsteins. Amaral pointed the gun at Bryan and told him to give Amaral his wallet.

After Bryan gave Amaral the wallet, Amaral marched the Bernsteins past their car and toward the desert, where he put the muzzle to the back of Laura's head and fired. About 30 seconds later he shot Bryan in the back of the head.

Several minutes later, a deputy sheriff pulled into the rest area and found the Bernsteins. Bryan was still alive and was able to identify himself and tell the deputy what happened, although the deputy had to hold him down because he was "moaning, thrashing, and rolling around" in pain. Both Laura and Bryan died from the gunshot wounds.


    Presiding Judge: Tom C. Cole
    Prosecutor: Conrad Mallek and James Coil
    Start of Trial: January 26, 1993
    Verdict: February 23, 1993
    Sentencing: December 16, 1993

Aggravating Circumstances:

    Pecuniary Gain (Both)
    Especially Cruel (Bryan)
    Multiple Homicides (Both)     

Mitigating Circumstances:

    Troubled childhood
    Family "somewhat dysfunctional"
    Loving and caring mother
    Now supportive family
    Some sympathy or remorse for the victims and their families
    Felony murder instruction


    State v. Dickens, 187 Ariz. 1, 926 P.2d 468 (1996).

April 27, 2001. A Warrant of Execution has been issued by the Arizona Supreme Court for the execution of Gregory Scott DICKENS ADC#102305 on May 31, 2001.

Inmate Dickens has not exhausted his appeals process

April 29, 2001. A Stay of Execution has been issued by the US District Court in the execution of Gregory Scott DICKENS ADC#102305 scheduled for May 31, 2001.



When Wickedness Meets Evil

Here’s a question to ponder while waiting for the traffic light to change: Did working with violent youths make Greg Dickens evil or was he a depraved individual who naturally gravitated to bad kids because he could shape them as he saw fit?

It’s an academic exercise only, because the bottom line is that Greg Dickens is a malefactor of the worst order and just when he turned bad isn’t that important after all.

His is simply a story of what happens when wickedness meets malevolence. As usual, innocent people died.

In 1990, Dickens was working as a counselor at a placement center for youthful offenders in Temecula, California when he met 14-year-old Travis Amaral. Dickens was a pedophile who enjoyed trading sexual services from his young friends in return for lavish gifts: One piece of evidence was a “contract” between Dickens and another youth for a $1,700 car in return for a “total body massage.”

Dickens’s relationship with Amaral was cemented when in September 1991, Amaral contacted Dickens in Yuma, Arizona, and told him he was running away. Dickens bought Amaral a bus ticket to Yuma, and over burgers the pair discussed their financial woes.

The best way to solve them, according to Amaral’s subsequent testimony, was to plan and commit a robbery. They flipped a coin to decide who would commit the first crime and Amaral “won.” He opted to commit the crime at a highway rest stop.

The two would-be robbers headed east out of town on Interstate 8 and stopped on the eastbound rest stop outside town. Once there, they waited three hours until the opportunity was right. It was shortly after 9 p.m. when Bryan and Laura Bernstein pulled into the westbound rest area.

Taking a .38-caliber revolver from Dickens, Amaral sprinted across the freeway. According to the teen, he also carried a walkie-talkie while Dickens kept the other in his truck.

The twenty-something couple had pulled into the quiet rest area to get a little sleep, and was unprepared when Amaral approached them and asked the time. He then produced the gun and demanded Bryan’s wallet, which he surrendered. Turning to Laura, he asked for her wallet, but she said she didn’t have one.

At this point, Amaral and Dickens disagree as to what happened next. According to Amaral, Dickens, through the walkie-talkie, said “No witnesses.”

“What?” replied Amaral.

“You know what I mean,” Dickens replied. “No witnesses.”

“What do you mean by no witnesses. If I kill them, there are no witnesses,” Amaral testified that he responded. “If I leave them here, there are witnesses.”

According to Amaral, Dickens again replied, “No witnesses.”

At that point, Amaral shot Laura Bernstein in the head, killing her instantly. He turned the gun on Bryan, who was crouching over his wife and fired.

Dickens meanwhile was driving over the median and into the rest area. He picked up Amaral and they fled the scene.

Bryan Bernstein was discovered semiconscious next to his dead wife by a deputy sheriff about 20 minutes after the attack. He was unable to provide any information before he died.

The pair burned the evidence of the robbery after removing cash, traveler’s checks and a single credit card, which Amaral unsuccessfully tried to use at a Yuma K-Mart the day following the murders. After spending a last night together, they split up, with Amaral returning to his mother’s home and Dickens fleeing to Carlsbad, California.

Meanwhile, the Bernstein murder investigation went cold, as there were no clues or leads for investigators to follow.

Nearly six months after the murders, police got their first break in the case when Amaral ran away from home again and ended up at Dickens’s San Diego apartment. Amaral’s mother reported her son to police as a runaway, and when he was located, authorities charged Dickens with sexually abusing Amaral and other young men, as well as assault with a deadly weapon.

In the course of investigating Dickens’s sexual crimes, Amaral told police he and Dickens were involved in a double homicide in Yuma, Arizona.

As Dickens realized the depth of the trouble he was in, he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He was taken to a local hospital with relatively minor injuries, and while he was there, he was interrogated by police. He later tried to claim the hospital interrogation was involuntary despite evidence that he told authorities he felt “in control of his thoughts and understood what he was saying.”

Dickens later claimed that blood loss from his suicide attempt clouded his thoughts.

In his conversation with police, he told a different version of events than Amaral. According to Dickens, he and Amaral were at the eastbound rest area because he was having trouble with his truck when Amaral decided that they could make some money by robbing people. Suddenly the teen ran across the highway and robbed and killed the Bernsteins.

Dickens told police when he saw the muzzle flashes he started driving back to Yuma (in a broken-down truck?) without his friend, but when he saw Amaral running after the truck, he stopped and picked him up.

“I didn’t leave any witnesses,” Amaral reportedly told him.

Two weeks before Dickens went to trial, Amaral agreed to a plea deal in return for his testimony against his former lover. He waivered however, on his willingness to testify, and as a result, did not testify during the prosecution’s case-in-chief.

After Dickens placed most of the blame for the murders on Amaral, the teen reversed course again and agreed to testify in return for the state not seeking the death penalty against him.

The prosecution moved to reopen its case to present Amaral’s testimony, and the judge granted the motion, giving Dickens’s attorney one week to prepare for Amaral’s testimony.

Amaral was sentenced to 55 years in prison for his role in the murders and although Dickens was acquitted of the murder and robbery charges, the jury convicted him of felony murder and sentenced him to death.

He is currently awaiting execution on Arizona’s death row.


Queer On Death Row

Excerpt from The Village Voice Article, March 13, 2001: 

Gregory Scott Dickens was 26 when he was charged with killing a couple outside Yuma, Arizona. He had been traveling with a 16-year-old who, according to Dickens's current attorney, was the most important person in his life. The youth admitted to firing the gun, but he testified that Dickens had given him the weapon and put him up to the crime. When the defense moved to present evidence that this teen fit the profile of a violent and impulsive liar, Judge Tom Cole intervened. If the defense took that route, said the judge, he might allow the prosecutor to raise an issue that had been kept from the jury: Dickens and his young friend  were lovers.  Then the nature of Dickens's 2 previous convictions-for fondling minors-might also come out. "The state could say that in this homosexual relationship, the older partner had control over the kid," says Dickens's current attorney. So the defense backed down.

This time it wasn't the prosecutor's tactics but the judge's behavior that figured in the appeal. Court papers filed on Dickens's behalf claim that Judge Cole had reacted with rage to his own son's homosexuality. He had written a letter expressing the hope that his son would "die in prison like all the rest of your faggot friends." Cole denies writing the letter, but he would not comment on the allegation that he believes his son was turned gay by unscrupulous friends. "It's insignificant," Cole says.

But the defense contends that such an attitude could have induced Cole to allow homosexuality into the trial-especially when the accused might appear to be a sexual predator. In Arizona, the judge decides when a killer should be sentenced to death, and though Dickens was acquitted of premeditated murder, Cole found other grounds to condemn him. Dickens had committed a multiple murder that resulted in pecuniary gain. But so had his young friend, whose life was spared.

Assume that all these defendants are guilty. Grant that their sexuality may have some relevance to the case. The question, then, is not whether the subject should have come up but how it was used. Homosexuality was seen as a marker of perversion or pathology, the sign of a murderous bent. In these cases, the pretense of tolerance is ripped away, and one can see monsters from the homophobic id. But one can also recognize the biases that underlie ordinary life.

"Anyone can end up in court," notes Ruth E. Harlow, legal director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "And any time a gay man or lesbian goes into court, they have to be afraid that sexual orientation may play a role in their case." It might come up in family court, when the judge assumes a gay parent would expose a child to sexual activity. It could influence a prosecutor's decision about who gets to plea bargain and who must stand trial. It could even determine who is charged with a crime in the 1st place. "We tend to think of gay people as crime victims, not prisoners," says Bill Dobbs of Queer Watch. "But in fact, the criminal justice system touches us in many ways."


Lesbians & gays on death row

By Anya Mukarji-Connolly

On Feb. 7, the state of Missouri executed Stanley D. Lingar, a gay man convicted of killing a teenager in 1985. This execution of Lingar and that of disabled African American lesbian Wanda Jean Allen in Oklahoma are two of the four recent death-penalty cases that have received national attention due to the severe homophobia that permeated their trials.

In the case of Stanley Lingar, the only issue raised in the sentencing phase of his trial was the fact that he and his co-defendant were involved in a consensual same-sex relationship.

An attorney representing Lingar said that the aim of telling the jury about the defendant's sexuality was to "inflame a homophobic jury from a rural area with prejudicial evidence that Lingar was a practicing homosexual, a fact that the prosecution believed the jury would find morally offensive."

Lingar appealed to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to overturn his conviction. The court held that the introduction of his homosexuality to the jury was "harm less" and "did not contribute to the jury's death verdict."

In Texas, the case of Calvin Burdine has gained national publicity. Burdine's original trial attorney slept through portions of the trial. And when the lawyer was awake, he remained silent when the prosecutor made homophobic arguments to the jury.

The most outrageous of these remarks was the prosecutor's urging the jury to sentence Burdine to death rather than life imprisonment because sending "a homosexual to the penitentiary certainly isn't a very bad punishment."

The jury was made up of a number of jurors who had expressed anti-gay views before being chosen. This was also not objected to by Burdine's original attorney. During the trial, the prosecutor used a 1971 "sodomy" conviction resulting from a consensual sexual relationship to argue that Burdine was likely to commit criminal violent acts in the future.

In 1999 Burdine's conviction was overturned, not based on the homophobia that dominated his trial, but rather on the denial of his right to counsel. The court reasoned that unconscious or sleeping counsel is equivalent to no counsel at all. An appeals court then voted to reinstate the conviction. Now on appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court has held that the case must be reheard.

In the case of Wanda Jean Allen, an African American lesbian who was executed on Jan. 11 by the state of Oklahoma, the prosecutor labeled Allen as the "man" in the relationship in order to persuade the jury that she was more capable of being violent.

Allen and Lingar, both recently executed, suffered from brain disabilities. Allen suffered from severe developmental disability resulting from skull traumas. Lingar's attorney also argued that his client was borderline developmentally disabled.

The fourth of these recent death penalty cases involving gay and lesbian defendants is the case of Gregory Scott Dickens in Arizona. Dickens, along with his co-defendant and former boyfriend, were charged with the 1991 robbery and murder of two people.

Dickens, who did not pull the trigger, was sentenced to death, while his co-defendant who testified for the prosecution was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Dickens' attorney argues that he did not receive a fair trail because the judge was homophobic. Judge Cole, who presided over Dickens's trial, had written several letters to his own gay son saying things such as, "I hope you die in prison like all the rest of your f----t friends."

Judge Cole maintains that he was capable of handling Dickens's case fairly.

In this society the death penalty has been used arbitrarily to punish members of oppressed communities. It is used disproportionately against the poor and people of color.

Over 3,200 individuals--disproportionately people of color--sit on death row in the United States. None of them are wealthy. Prior to 1976, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty was illegal because of its racist use.

Today, it is clear that the death penalty is also used to inflict severe punishment on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Capitalist society is built on a foundation of racism, sexism and anti-lesbian/ gay/ bi/trans oppression. It is no accident then that this ideology pervades the criminal injustice system and its laws--both created to protect private ownership of wealth and property, not the lives of poor and working people.

It's time to wage a large-scale fight to abolish the racist, bigoted use of the death penalty--a weapon of terror in the hands of the capitalist state.

And lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people of all nationalities have been in the forefront of this struggle, particularly in the battle to save the life of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.


Gregory Scott Dickens



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