Death Row Diaries: Man uses teenager to brutally murder couple outside Yuma

Posted at 7:36 AM, Aug 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-21 10:36:46-04

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories including this one where a man and his teenage accomplice use a coin toss to determine who would rob and kill and man and his wife at an Arizona rest stop.



Date of Birth: April 7, 1965

 Sentenced: December 16, 1993

Died in Prison: January 27, 2014

The Crime:

On the evening of September 10, 1991, Bryan and Laura Bernstein stopped at a rest stop on Interstate 8 near Yuma. What they didn't know was that 26-year-old Gregory Dickens and his 16-year-old accomplice Travis Amaral had already conducted a coin toss that would determine their fate.

Amaral and Dickens had flipped a coin to decide who would be the one to rob the Bernsteins. Amaral won the toss and ran across the interstate with a loaded .38 caliber revolver and a walkie-talkie Dickens had given him.  Amaral approached the unsuspecting couple asking them for the time. Laura responded, "It's 9:17."

"No witnesses"

Amaral pointed his gun at Bryan demanding his money. Over the walkie-talkie, he heard Dickens say, "No witnesses."

Amaral marched them passed their car toward the desert and asked them if they were ready to die. He first shot Laura in the head and then shot Bryan as he laid over his wife. 

Dickens drove across the freeway median, picked up Amaral and drove to his brother's house where they removed the contents of Bryan's wallet.

A sheriff's deputy came by about 9:40 p.m. and found the couple. Bryan was still alive and was able to relay to the deputy what had happened before passing away.

Dickens meets Amaral at a placement center for violent juveniles

Dickens meets Amaral:

Dickens met 14-year-old Travis Amaral in 1990 at a placement center for violent juveniles in Temecula, California where he worked as a counselor. The two stayed friends even after Dickens moved to Yuma in 1991. In September Amaral told Dickens he was running away from home. Dickens provided him with a bus ticket to meet him in Yuma.

After the murders:

The day after the killings Dickens and Amaral went their separate ways with Dickens going to Carlsbad California and Amaral returning home to his mother. The two met up again in 1992 when Amaral moved in with Dickens at an apartment in San Diego. 

Dickens was soon arrested by San Diego police for sexually abusing Amaral and other boys. When police interviewed Amaral, he told them about the Bernstein murders in Yuma.

Dickens was indicted in April 1992 for two counts of first-degree murder and armed robbery.

The Trial:

During the trial, Dickens insisted the robbery and murders were Amaral's idea, after he went into a rage when they had gotten stuck at the rest stop with an overheated truck. He said Amaral decided on his own to grab the gun, rob, and murder the couple.

In a plea agreement Amaral signed just before Dickens' trial, he agreed to testify, but a few days later he changed his mind and withdrew from the plea agreement. Amaral kept tabs on the trial and became upset with the way he was being portrayed and expressed an interest in testifying to set the record straight. The prosecutor offered the original plea agreement for his testimony. Amaral agreed, trading his testimony for the promise that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty against him.

Dickens committed suicide in the Eyman Prison Complex

A jury convicted Dickens on February 23. 1993 and he was sentenced to death that December. Twenty-one years later Dickens committed suicide in the Eyman Prison Complex in Florence on January 27, 2014.

Travis Amaral was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences and remains in prison to this day.