Gregory Dickens was sentenced to death for murder. Was it actually because he was gay?

A review of a decades-old case resurfaces questions of judicial bias in Arizona, and is relevant to the state’s current judicial appointees. 

Gregory Dickens was sentenced to death for murder. Was it actually because he was gay?
Art by Theo Grace Quest.

When the sun sets on Yuma—a small southwestern city along the U.S.-Mexico border that housed Arizona’s first prison—orange, purple, and red hues drench the landscape. The mountains that flank the city’s only highway cast shadows over sweeping lettuce farms that creep into the desert brush. 

That road, Interstate 8, carves through the landscape and connects Tucson to San Diego.

Just after one such sunset on Sept. 10, 1991, Bryan and Lauren Bernstein, both 22 years old, were shot to death on the interstate while passing through town.

The details surrounding the Bernstein’s deaths aren’t debated: on that summer night, 16-year-old Travis Amaral—who’d previously been accused of beating a nurse and being involved in another murder—walked up to the couple, who were parked at a rest stop on the highway. He robbed them and shot them both. Laura was killed immediately. Bryan was pronounced dead at a hospital the next day. Amaral was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. 

But another man, Gregory Dickens, was sentenced to death because he drove the car that got Amaral there. 

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