Tag Archive for Arizona

When Wickedness Met 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 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 killers 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 mind.
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 abuser. He wavered 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.

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

When Penny Cheney went to the hotel room of Jimmy Wayne Jeffers in October 1976, it is safe to assume that her drug-addled brain was preventing her from thinking clearly. Otherwise, she would have remembered that Jeffers had previously tried to kill her and that he was probably even more angry with her since she had ratted him out to police for dealing smack and stealing.
But the lure of a heroin fix from her former boyfriend was too powerful — like the dose he gave her — and it cost her her life.
In an ironic twist of fate that is one of the best examples of letting the punishment fit the crime, Jeffers also died of a drug overdose — this one administered by the State of Arizona in 1995 while he lay strapped to a gurney in the state prison in Florence.
Jeffers was awaiting trial for drug offenses and was incarcerated in the Pima County Jail in August 1976 when he received a copy of a police report revealing that Penny had informed the Pima County Sheriff’s Office that Jeffers was dealing drugs. On the margin of the report, Jeffers wrote “Penny was only one that knew this.” It was at that time that he decided to kill her.
He wrote a kite to another prisoner in the jail, offering “some quick cash” if the prisoner would get rid of Penny and another alleged stool pigeon known as Fat Boy.
Demonstrating his profound ignorance by assuming that notes between prisoners were somehow privileged communications, Jeffers handed the note to a jailer for delivery. The jailer instead read the note and turned it over to his supervisor. The note read in part:

Name your price and it will be paid the day after it is in the papers. I want to do it myself but I am not sure they will set bond. If they do it will take a couple of months. I am in a hurry. I don’t want her to get out of town. An O.D. would be fine. Nice & clean.

Jeffers did manage to get bonded out and in October, he was living at a local motel with a friend named Doris when he made contact with Penny. Acting on instructions from Jeffers to get lost, Doris left the two former lovers alone, sitting at the motel’s pool for more than an hour until it began to rain. She waited in her car for another 30 minutes before returning to the motel room.
Jeffers answered the door armed with a pistol which he pointed at Doris’s head. He ordered her into the room, telling her to sit down and shut up.
Penny was lying unconscious on the bed. Jeffers took out a syringe and injected something into her hand, swearing at the woman who was obviously in the stages of a drug overdose. Seeing Penny foaming at the mouth, Doris, a licensed practical nurse, recognized that Jeffers was deliberately causing Penny to overdose.
“I’ve given her enough to kill a horse and this bitch won’t die,” he told Doris.
Doris checked her pulse and saw that Penny was still alive.
“Are you going to help her?” Doris asked.
“No, I’m going to kill her,” Jeffers replied, unbuckling the unconscious girl’s belt and wrapping around her neck.
“Stop it,” Doris said. “She’ll probably die anyway.”
Jeffers shrugged her off.
“I’ve seen her this way before and she’s come out of it,” he said. Jeffers proceeded to strangle Penny and told Doris to check her vitals again.
Penny was dead.
Jeffers then picked up the gun and directed Doris to inject Penny with more heroin, taking photos of her. He also took photos of Doris choking Penny.
“This will prove you were an accomplice,” he told her.
They then moved Penny’s body to the bathroom and stored the corpse in the bath until burying it in the Sedona desert.
A month later, Sharon Galarza, a friend of Penny and Jeffers was arrested on prostitution and drug charges and called Jeffers to suggest that Penny had also set her up. Jeffers, the criminal genius who did not think his prison letters would be examined, handed police a recorded confessionto Penny’s murder
“Well, nobody has to worry about her anymore,” Jeffers told Galarza in her jail phone call. “She’s gone. I killed her.”
He also warned Galarza not to tell anyone, because he didn’t act alone.
A few days later Jeffers invited Sharon to his hotel room with the promise of heroin. When she arrived, he assaulted her by holding a butcher knife to her throat. At knifepoint, Galarza was forced to inject herself with heroin.
Jeffers was subsequently convicted of receiving stolen property and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Shortly after, he was convicted of federal firearms charges and sentenced to 20 years.
While Jeffers was in prison, Galarza was arrested on drug and prostitution charges, and in return for a nolle prose for her own crimes, told what she knew about Penny’s murder.
Jeffers was convicted of Penny’s murder in 1977, and was executed in 1995.
Demonstrating that he was a real class act until the end, his final words consisted of a string of profanity, and he died with his middle finger extended toward the witnesses.