Justin Dickens is a deathrow inmate who was convicted of capital murder in a robbery-homicide at 17 years old, and received the death penalty.
Dickens is featured in the third of episode of Netflix’s true crime docu-series “I Am a Killer,” which features a series of death row inmates to each speak about their crime convictions and experiences leading up to and following the events.
Dickens has never denied his responsibility in the murder he was convicted for, but maintains that there’s “more to the story”. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Dickens Grew Up With a ‘Rocky Childhood’, Born Two Months Early to a Cocaine-Addicted Mother
Dickens said that his parents split up when he was twelve, and that after, he’d “run the streets” with his mom, who he described as a “homeless drug addict.”
“We’d commit petty thefts at stores, and we’d do drugs together,” Dickens said. Soon, Dickens found a pseudo-father figure within Dallas Moore, a local tattoo artist. “Being lost as a kid…I was just drawn to him, kind of brainwashed by him,” Dickens said.
Moore and his fiancé Martha, were addicted to drugs. At a cocaine party they hosted, Dickens said he didn’t want to try using a needle, but was eventually convinced to snort cocaine. A day or two after that, Dickens said, “Moore finally broke me down to try shooting cocaine. Once I shot the cocaine, we never snorted again.”
2. Dickens Fell Into Trouble When He & Martha Used an Ounce of Moore’s Cocaine Without Asking
When Dickens was 17 years old, three years into knowing Moore, he and Martha used some of Moore’s cocaine while he was sleeping. “When I was 17, we was partying for about a week straight and Dallas passed out,” Dickens said. “Martha went into his pocket and took an ounce of his cocaine…she alone used a bunch of it, and before the sun came up, she was in a panic.”
Martha asked Dickens to help her find the money to pay Moore back. Dickens added, “When you’re a drug addict, all you think about is drugs. The repercussions of whatever it is are out of sight. You don’t think about that.”
Because Martha and Dickens had used up the cocaine, Moore came after them “with a pistol.”
“I woke up with a knife to my throat,” Dickens said. “[Moore and a local drug addict] were talking about how they were going to kill me.”
Moore began to beat Dickens up, and then made Dickens follow him back to his house. “He pretty much blamed it all on me,” Dickens said. “He told me I was going to get his money, then pointed to a ski mask.”
3. Dickens’ Fear of Dallas ‘Overrode’ His Fear of the Repercussions of the Law
Dickens explains that he drove to Mockingbird Prawn & Jewelry Store because “my fear of Dallas overrode my fear of the repercussions of the law.”
Dickens said, “They buzz me in [to the jewelry store]. I said I was getting married and would like to try on a ring, and they turned their back on me, and when they turned their back on me, I pulled the gun and cocked it.”
Two men were in the store at the time: Allen Carter, a schoolteacher, and store owner Jim Jacobs. Dickens told them to get on the ground. “I froze up, I was totally out of my element. I should’ve just said, ‘Put your hands up and give me some money,’ and let me out, but hindsight’s 20/20.”
Dickens was then tackled by Allen Carter from behind. “He slammed me into the wall, and I fired a shot that hid him in the torso…and he grabbed the gun and jerked the gun straight up, and the bullet fired through his hand and into the forehead.”
Dickens tried to get out of the door, and shot the last two shots into the lock, but it didn’t work. Dickens couldn’t get out of the front door, so he ran out of the back door, where he saw his friend was driving away without him. “I thought, ‘story of my life,'” Dickens said, “and I took off running.”
4. Dickens Said He ‘Couldn’t Believe’ He’d Killed Somebody
Immediately following the murder, Dickens said, “I just thought, ‘I can’t believe I just killed somebody.’ That thought was just on a loop, over and over and over on my mind. There was no, ‘Am I going to get away with this?’ There was nothing. I was just stunned.'”
Dickens was arrested three days after the incident.
Upon being arrested, Dickens said that later in the interrogation, “I just hung my head and started crying. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill nobody, I didn’t mean to kill nobody.'”
During Dicken’s trial, the events were painted in a very different light than how he has recollected it. James Farren, the attorney prosecuting Dickens said, “As far as his rationalization for committing the robbery, I think is true of most falsehoods, you mix in some truth with the lie, it makes it more believable. I think it was more of a humiliation than any serious beating he took…his driving desire was to convince everybody…’I’m a dangerous guy, you don’t want to mess with me.'”
Farren argued that Carter approached Dickens, rather than charging him, and tried to calmly ask him to put down the gun. This is the key distinction in the case: if a victim has been proven to provoke the perpetrator, then the death penalty wouldn’t be allowed. By arguing that Carter did not provoke Dickens, the prosecution was able to get the death penalty for Dickens.
“It would be impossible for what he describes to have occurred, and not have blood all over him,” Farren said.
5. The Last Thing Dickens Said in Court Has Raised Eyebrows Towards His Character
Carter’s daughter said that though she has since forgiven Dickens for his actions, there was one part of the court hearing that has always stuck with her. “[Dickens was asked], ‘Now that you have met Mr. Carter’s wife, and daughter, and mother, and sisters, how do you feel about what you did?’ And Dickens looked at us and looked at James Farren and said, ‘You know, Mr. Farren, I’m really sorry this happened to me.'”
Dickens said to Netflix of that answer, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I said that. I was…I was a jackass. What I said was probably devastatingly cruel, but I can’t even make an excuse for that.”
In a followup interview, Dickens said watched a video of Moore in an undisclosed interview saying he had no involvement in the murder. Dickens said, “I really met the wrong person in a very pivotal point in my juvenile days. It created disaster and tragedy.”