State v. Dickens

Citation187 Ariz. 1,926 P.2d 468
Decision Date31 October 1996
Docket NumberNo. CR-93-0543-AP,CR-93-0543-AP
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee/Cross-Appellant, v. Gregory Scott DICKENS, Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Arizona

FELDMAN, Chief Justice.


Gregory Scott Dickens (Defendant) was convicted of two counts of felony murder, one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and two counts of armed robbery. He was sentenced to death on each of the felony murder convictions. Direct appeal to this court is automatic. A.R.S. § 13-4031; Ariz.R.Crim.P. 26.15, 31.2(b). We have jurisdiction pursuant to Arizona Constitution art. 6, § 5(3) and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031 and 13-4033.


Defendant first met fourteen-year-old Travis Amaral in 1990, while working as a counselor at a placement center for violent juveniles in Temecula, California. Defendant maintained a friendship with Amaral in California. In early September 1991, a few days after Defendant moved to Yuma, Amaral contacted him and told him he was running away from home. Defendant purchased a bus ticket for Amaral to travel to Yuma.

According to Amaral's testimony at trial, on September 10, while discussing their financial problems at a restaurant, Defendant suggested they plan a robbery. They flipped a coin to decide who would conduct the first robbery, and Amaral won. Defendant gave Amaral a choice of three locations to commit the robbery, and Amaral chose a highway rest area.

After leaving the restaurant, they drove to a rest area on eastbound Interstate 8, east of Yuma. After waiting and watching for approximately three hours, they saw Laura and Bryan Bernstein drive into the parallel westbound rest area. Defendant gave Amaral a loaded .38 caliber revolver and nodded his head, and Amaral walked across the freeway. Amaral also testified that he carried a two-way walkie-talkie that Defendant had given him, and Defendant had one with him in his truck.

Amaral approached the Bernsteins and asked them for the time. Laura responded, "9:17 [p.m.]." Amaral then pointed the gun at Bryan and demanded his wallet, which he surrendered. Amaral then asked Laura for her wallet, but she did not have one. Speaking through the walkie-talkie, Defendant then told Amaral, "No witnesses." Amaral asked, "What?" Defendant replied, "You know what I mean, no witnesses." Amaral responded, "What do you mean by no witness? If I kill them, there are no witnesses; If I leave them here, there are witnesses." Defendant replied, "No witnesses." Amaral ordered the Bernsteins to walk past their car and turn around, asked them if they were ready to die, and shot Laura Bernstein point blank in the head. Laura dropped to the ground, Bryan crouched down over her, and Amaral shot at his head.

While Amaral was with the Bernsteins, Defendant drove across the median to the westbound lanes, where he picked up Amaral. They then drove to the home of Defendant's brother, where Amaral removed cash, traveler's checks, and one credit card from Bryan's wallet, then burned the wallet and its remaining contents.

At approximately 9:40 p.m., a deputy sheriff discovered the Bernsteins. Laura was dead and Bryan, who had been shot in the head, was semiconscious. He told the deputy that he had been threatened with a gun, attacked, and thought he was shot. He died shortly thereafter.

On September 11, the morning following the murders, Amaral unsuccessfully attempted to use Bryan's credit card at a K-Mart. That evening, Defendant rented a room at a Motel 6, where he and Amaral spent the night. Early the next morning, Defendant and Amaral parted company: Defendant drove to Carlsbad, California, and Amaral went back to his mother's home.

They met up again in March 1992, when Amaral moved in with Defendant for one to two weeks in a San Diego apartment. Amaral's mother reported Amaral as a runaway and gave police Defendant's address. Defendant was ultimately arrested by San Diego authorities on charges of sexually abusing Amaral and other boys, and assault with a deadly weapon. 1 During an interview concerning the alleged abuse, Amaral told police that he and Defendant had been involved in a double homicide in Yuma.

Defendant was indicted in April 1992 on two counts of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of felony first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and two counts of armed robbery. He was acquitted of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder but convicted of the felony murders and armed robberies of Bryan and Laura, as well as conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Finding no mitigating factors sufficiently substantial to call for leniency, the judge sentenced Defendant to death on the felony murder counts; he further ordered that if the sentences were ever reduced, they would be served consecutively. The judge also sentenced Defendant to fourteen years' imprisonment on the conspiracy and armed robbery convictions, to be served consecutively to the death sentences.


Defendant's testimony at trial diverged significantly from Amaral's account of the facts. Defendant stated that he and Amaral were at the rest area because his truck had overheated on the highway; without warning, Amaral went into a rage and ran across the interstate; at the rest area on the other side, he robbed and murdered the Bernsteins. Defendant was impeached with inconsistencies from three prior statements to police.

A. Voluntariness of Defendant's first statement

Defendant's first statement was obtained by the police on March 22 while he was hospitalized in San Diego. The detectives received permission from hospital personnel to interview Defendant and before starting, asked Defendant whether he felt capable of giving a statement. Defendant replied affirmatively, telling them he felt in control of his thoughts and understood what he was saying. He also waived his Miranda rights, saying he was very eager to talk, even though the detectives told him he would get no benefits for talking.

Defendant told the detectives that he and Amaral were at the rest area because his truck had overheated while driving to Dome Valley. After being parked for fifteen to twenty minutes, Amaral said they could make some money by robbing people. When Defendant refused, Amaral, who had a gun, jumped out of the truck and walked across the freeway. Shortly thereafter, Defendant saw a muzzle flash and heard two shots. He then started the truck and turned back toward Yuma, but when he saw Amaral running down the freeway with the gun in his hand, he pulled over and picked him up. When Amaral got in the truck, he said, "I didn't leave any witnesses," and "I'm not sure if I murdered them, but I shot two people." Later that night, Amaral told Defendant exactly what happened at the rest area, saying he knew one of the victims was dead.

Defendant sought to suppress this statement, arguing that it was involuntary because of his medical condition. At the voluntariness hearing, Defendant presented evidence that he had slashed his wrists, lost a significant amount of blood, and undergone surgery on the afternoon prior to making the statement. Defendant argues that by admitting this statement, the judge violated both his right to due process and the privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and Ariz. Const. art. 2, §§ 4 and 10.

The state has the burden of proving voluntariness by a preponderance of the evidence, and courts look to the totality of the circumstances to determine if that burden is met. State v. Stanley, 167 Ariz. 519, 523-24, 809 P.2d 944, 948-49, cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1014, 112 S.Ct. 660, 116 L.Ed.2d 751 (1991). The record here contains ample evidence that the state carried its burden. Defendant's own witnesses established that his ability to understand, respond, or think clearly was not impaired. 2 Furthermore, there was no police misconduct or overreaching. State v. Tucker, 157 Ariz. 433, 445, 759 P.2d 579, 581 (1988).

Defendant's reliance on Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978), is misplaced. In that case, the defendant had been shot and was in intensive care when the police interrogated him. During the interview, the defendant was "encumbered by tubes, needles, and breathing apparatus," "depressed almost to the point of coma," in unbearable pain, and was questioned despite his repeated requests that questioning cease and that he meet with his attorney. Id. at 398-99, 98 S.Ct. at 2416-17. Nothing remotely similar occurred here.

Defendant also argues that he did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights. For this proposition, Defendant contends that his response to the detectives indicates incompetence. Defendant was read his rights and asked, "Having in mind an understanding of your rights, do you want to speak with us." Defendant responded, "Yes I am." (Emphasis added.) Notwithstanding Defendant's ostensibly inconsistent response, the record supports a finding that the Miranda waiver was voluntary and intelligent. At trial, Defendant testified that he told the officers he understood his Miranda rights and that all three of his statements to the police were voluntary.

B. Defendant's requests for investigative and expert assistance

At various stages throughout the trial, Defendant requested, and the judge generally granted, the appointment of investigators and various experts. Pursuant to Ariz.R.Crim.P. 15.2, the state requested that Defendant disclose any written or recorded witness statements produced by the investigation. The judge then conditioned the grant of additional investigative...

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