Justin Dickens was only 17 years old when he was convicted of capital murder committed during a robbery. This Justin Dickens wiki looks at his life, the events of the murder, and whether he was the victim of an overzealous prosecutor or got what he deserved.
While Dickens has never denied he was responsible for the murder, he’s always maintained that there was “more to the story” and disputed the prosecutor’s version of events. The jury didn’t see it the same way. He was sentenced to death row.
Who Is Justin Dickens?
Justin Wiley Dickens was born July 28, 1976, in Amarillo, Texas. And like many who end up on death row, Justin Dickens didn’t really stand much of a chance. In fact, his troubles started before he was even born.
Early on in the pregnancy, his mother, Vicky Raelene James, decided she didn’t want a second child. So she used methamphetamine to try to abort. Because of his mother’s actions, Dickens was born two months early.
Dickens said his mother Vicky was a good mom when she wasn’t high. But she had her demons: mainly heroin and cocaine. She was arrested a dozen times or more and her children were in and out of foster homes.
When Dickens was 10, Vicky James tried to commit suicide by slashing her wrists with a broken mirror.
Dickens’ parents finally called it quits when he was 12. And then things got really rocky.
“I’d run the streets with my mom, you know,” he recalled.
Justin Dickens remembers that his mom resorted to stealing to support her drug habit. She would run the streets shoplifting from stores, stealing watches, leather jackets, “Monistat,” anything. Dickens was her decoy, walking around the store working as a distraction.
“She was…she was just a homeless drug addict who, you know, would just commit petty thefts at stores, and we’d do drugs together and go to jail together and bond out and just keep repeating and repeating and repeating,” he added.
A New Father Figure
Another father figure would enter Dickens’ life: Geary James. Justin recalls that Geary James could, at times, be a doting stepfather. On other occasions, he was a deadbeat drug addict.
Once, when James was reading a story to a young Dickens and his sister, members of the Mexican Mafia came by. They said James would die unless he ponied up money he owed for marijuana sales.
On another occasion, when Justin Dickens was in the sixth grade, he walked in on his “stepdad shooting up in the garage.”
By the time he was 14, Dickens said, he was living on his own. He got the nickname “Chicken,” he said, because of his short stature and friendly personality. Unlike his mother who used cocaine, he huffed gasoline and used LSD.
Then He Met Dallas Moore
In the midst of all this chaos, young Justin Dickens found misguided solace in another pseudo-father figure—Dallas Moore. Moore, 32, was a charismatic tattoo artist and drug dealer ex-con who had just finished a 10-year stint for first-degree armed robbery.
Moore even thought of himself as the Texas Charles Manson. Except Moore didn’t brainwash women and mastermind one of the most heinous crimes in America. No, he was more apt to boss kids around, slap women, and shoot up cocaine in his run-down trailer in Amarillo.
“Being lost as a kid…I was just drawn to him, kind of brainwashed by him,” Dickens said.
Despite being a slick, fast-talking loser, Dallas Moore had a fan club, which included his fiancée Martha. She was a drug addict who had tattoos on her gums and slept on a dirty mattress on the floor.
When the pair needed money to finance his cocaine habit, Moore would sell drugs to the local children.
Justin Dickens entered the orbit of this darling duo when he was about 15 years old.
Dickens and a friend had stolen some marijuana, and he went to visit Dallas Moore because he thought he might be able to sell it to him. When he got there, he found Dallas hosting a large, raucous cocaine party.
Moore tried to get Dickens to try cocaine, but Dickens resisted—his mother was a drug addict and he knew what shooting cocaine did to people. Moore persisted, though, telling him that needles were just a mental thing. Dickens resisted a little; instead of shooting up he simply snorted cocaine.
After a couple days of snorting cocaine, drinking, and hanging around in Moore’s dilapidated trailer, Justin Dickens broke down and shot up cocaine for the first time. It only took once. After that, he never snorted cocaine again.
“He was like a cult figure, an icon,” Dickens recalled. “Me and Dallas became tight.”
Moore and Dickens were inseparable. Moore gave his new protégé a tattoo on his torso—a skull wearing a derby festooned with a swastika.
When Dallas Moore and Martha tied the knot, they took Justin Dickens along with them on the honeymoon: the bridal suite of an Amarillo motel.
“He seemed like the big brother I never had,” Dickens said. “He was a people person.”
That was, at least, until the bottom fell out of their friendship.
A Prelude to Murder
By March 1994, Dickens, then 17, had been friends with Dallas Moore for three years. One night, after a week of partying, Dickens and Martha decided they needed to do some coke. The only person that had some was Dallas Moore, but he was passed out.
Problem solved. Martha went into his pocket and helped herself to $1,000 worth of his cocaine.
Martha used most of it, and just before dawn, with her stash mostly depleted, she was in a panic. Martha asked Dickens and his friend Craig Pennell to drive her around so they could sell some of the leftover cocaine in order to pay back Moore before he woke up. The three of them couldn’t find any buyers, so, to make matters worse, they ended up doing the rest of the cocaine.
Before dropping off Martha, they’d heard that Dallas Moore was after them “with a pistol.”
Moore eventually caught up with Justin Dickens. It was about 2:00 a.m.; he was asleep on Pennell’s couch.
The cold touch of a knife against his neck wakened Justin Dickens. Moore and a local drug addict by the name of Eddie Ramos were talking about how they were going to kill him.
But friendship has its privileges; instead of killing Dickens, Moore just slapped him around with the pistol.
It also pays to be married to Dallas Moore. Instead of blaming the stolen cocaine on Martha, he blamed it all on Dickens.
To pay him back for the stolen cocaine, though, Moore told Dickens he had to take Martha to Amarillo Boulevard and pimp her out to raise the money.
“I want you to take my wife to the motel and watch her. Make sure no trick stays with her more than 15 minutes. Let her earn my f***ing money,” he said. “Will you do that for me?”
Justin Dickens, not sensing it was some sort of test or trap, agreed.
According to Moore, Dickens said, “Yeah, I’ll pimp that bitch.”
That’s when Moore hit him, and broke his nose.
“Oh, you would allow Martha to go pimp herself?” he asked, looking at Dickens.
It was then that Moore told Dickens it was up to him to get his money.
According to Dickens, Moore pointed to a ski mask hanging on the wall.
“When I get in trouble, I handle my business with a pistol,” he said.
March 12, 1994 — A Robbery Gone Wrong or Premeditated Murder?
After seeing the ski mask and hearing about how Dallas Moore lets his pistol do the talking, Dickens and his friend Pennell took off in Pennell’s truck to find a way to get the $1,000 to repay Moore.
The only place Dickens could think of to get a gun, because Dallas Moore knew better than to lend him his gun, was at his great-grandfather’s house out in the country. They arrived at his house, ate some “homemade sticky buns,” then walked into the bedroom and stole a .357 revolver.
“The best friend I ever had in the world,” he said. “I betrayed him and stole his gun.”
The pair drove back into Amarillo, drinking beer, taking “Valium,” doing coke, and listening to Pantera. Dickens asked Pennell to pull over so they could figure out their next plan of action.
But Pennell said, “No, I know a place over by my grandparents’ house.”
They drove to the south side of Amarillo and stopped in front of the Mockingbird Pawn and Jewelry store. It was around 6:00 p.m; Justin Dickens got out of the truck, with the gun in a pocket of his Oakland Raiders jacket.
According to Justin Dickens’ version of events, he walked up to the door and pressed the security buzzer. Jim Jacobs, the store owner, buzzed him in. As Dickens walked inside, he saw Jacobs talking to Allen Carter, a local schoolteacher.
Dickens told Jacobs he was getting married and wanted to look at wedding rings. As the pair turned their back on Dickens, he pulled out the gun and cocked it.
“Get down on the ground,” he commanded. “I ain’t shitting you, I’ll kill you.”
Jacobs lay down on the ground, out of Dickens’ sight. Allen Carter was on the ground between two counters, his head facing Dickens, who was standing just five feet away.
Then, out of nowhere, Allen Carter rushed Dickens, hitting him with a “lightning-strike”shoulder tackle, and slammed him into the wall.
Dickens panicked and fired a shot that hit Allen in the torso. Dickens then slid down the wall with the pistol raised in the air. Allen grabbed the barrel of the gun and jerked it up in the air, and a bullet fired through Allen’s hand and hit him in the forehead.
At this point, Jim Jacobs ran out the side door.
Justin Dickens tried to get out of the locked door by firing the last two shots into the lock, but it didn’t work. He ran out the back door instead, just in time to see his friend Pennell drive away.
“I thought, ‘story of my life,’” Dickens said. “And I took off running.”
Three days later, Dickens was arrested by the Amarillo police.
During the interrogation, Dickens said, he “just hung [his] head and started crying.”
“I said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill nobody, I didn’t mean to kill nobody.’”
An Overzealous Prosecutor?
There are two sides to every story. And James Farren, the Randall County Criminal District Attorney, painted Dickens not as a shrinking violet, but as a cold-blooded killer.
“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,” he said. “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.’”
According to Farren, Allen Carter didn’t charge Dickens that evening in the pawn shop; he calmly asked him to put the gun down and told him not to ruin his life.
“Dickens responded, as he always did, violently, and shot and killed Francis Allen Carter.”
Farren claimed that the forensic evidence showed that Dickens did not struggle with Carter. If they’d had a close confrontation, as Dickens maintains, Carter would have had blood all over himself. But he didn’t.
Not that Farren’s opinion/theory could be cross-examined.
Russ Bailey, Dickens’ defense attorney, noted that the Amarillo police never strung the room to determine where the bullets went and where they came from. Doing so would have determined if a fight had occurred between Dickens and Carter.
“They didn’t think it was relevant. It could have made a big difference for us,” Bailey said. “Then again, the police department doesn’t work for the defense, they work for the State of Texas.”
An Eyewitness to Murder
Jim Jacobs, the only eyewitness to the murder, said there was a struggle.
“We laid down on the floor and, um, and he said, ‘Spread out,’ for whatever reason. At some point, and I still don’t know why, Allen decided it was time for him to take action.
“And he came up off the floor across the jewelry counter and engaged the kid and was trying to take the gun from him when it went off.
“That was the first shot.
“Then the second one was when he was pushing, trying to push the gun away, I think, and it came up through the webbing in his finger and hit him in the head as well.
“The one that caught Allen the second time was the one that I’m sure killed him.
“And that’s when I went out the back door,” he said.
Prosecution Throws Cold Water on Jim Jacobs
For some odd reason, though, Jacobs wouldn’t sign a statement unless it was approved by Farren. Why would he need Farren’s approval for something he witnessed? In Texas, the charges related to involuntary manslaughter are very different than those associated with first-degree murder.
If it can be proven that the victim, Carter, provoked the perpetrator, Dickens, the death penalty would be off the table.
But if Farren could prove that Carter did not provoke Dickens, then he could get a death sentence.
There Is Evidence to Suggest Dickens Lied
There may be some evidence to suggest Dickens was not remorseful for killing Carter and the death may have been intentional.
One friend testified in court that Justin Dickens bragged about the murder. “He thought it was like kind of funny, I guess,” she said.
Justin Dickens explained his bravado away by saying, “I just felt an incredible sense of shame, and the only way to play it off was act like Mr. Bigshot.”
Farren, though, said Dickens bragged because “he wasn’t ‘Little Chicken’ anymore. He was finally a gangster.”
The Jury Decides
Justin Dickens never denied causing the death of Allen Carter. But was it murder? Or was it an accidental shooting?
In the end, the jury decided “no,” Carter did not provoke Dickens. As a result, in 1995, Dickens was sentenced to death.
What about Jim Jacobs’ eyewitness account? The prosecutor said Jacobs only thought he saw the struggle
“I think he just made the assumption that that was going to happen,” Farren said. “Once he came up off the floor, there was only one thing on his mind, and that was fleeing out the door.”
That is what caused Dickens to panic and pull the trigger, not being charged by Carter.
Justin Dickens on Death Row
Dickens settled into life on death row as well as one could.
Dallas Moore, meanwhile, moved to New Mexico and continued on his merry way, racking up charges for burglary, kidnapping, and escaping jail. After making parole, he gave an interview about his friendship with Justin Dickens, the young man he took under his wing and on his honeymoon.
“He was just a young kid, trying to step up to the plate and trying to impress people,” Moore said. “He got caught.”
A Pen Pal
Justin Dickens’ trial and sentence made headlines around the U.S. and around the world. Many were sympathetic to Dickens and believed he was the victim of an overzealous prosecution. One such person sent Dickens a letter in April 1999.
“Hello Justin! I have never written to an inmate before so if I babble please forgive me.”
Michelle Sauve, a 28-year-old who lived 1,500 miles away in rural Lisle, Ontario, Canada, went on to write that she was married, and that her husband knew she was writing him. She described her measurements (“34C, 24, 34, 5’5”, and 110 lbs), and listed her hobbies as horses, football, and reading.
Intrigued, Dickens replied and explained how he wound up on death row. He said he appreciated her writing to him and not being judgmental.
Dickens, now 22 years of age, began a long-term pen pal relationship with Sauve.
It wasn’t a long-distance relationship for long, however. After just a few letters, Sauve started to visit Dickens in prison.
Death Sentence Commuted
One year before Dickens and Sauve got married, they found reason to celebrate. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a death sentence for crimes committed while a person was a juvenile was considered to be cruel and unusual punishment.
Dickens’ sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 40 years to be served. He’s currently serving his sentence at the James V. Allred Unit, a medium-security prison in Iowa Park, Texas. Dickens will be eligible for parole in 2034.
The new rule affected more than just Dickens, angering James Farren. A 2005 report showed that one-third of the defendants Farren had sent to death row, 72 people, were under the age of 18.
Dickens and Sauve Marry in April 2006
After hundreds of letters back and forth, the couple were married in the spring of 2006.
“I love him dearly. He’s grown as a man,” she said.
Farren was not quite so pleased to hear about the nuptials, calling Dickens a “dangerous, brutal animal.”
He went on to say that dangerous criminals should be denied privileges such as web pages.
“Since we were deprived of the appropriate punishment, some discomfort for Dickens would be appreciated.”
Farren added that Sauve is being manipulated by Dickens “to obtain something he wants.” What that is Farren does not say.
He does give the couple a matrimonial sendoff, though, saying that Michelle Sauve “will rue the day she made this decision.”
Allen Carter’s Daughter Christi Carter Forgives Justin Dickens
In a June 2018 interview, Christi Carter, the daughter of Allen Carter, said she forgives Justin Dickens for what he did.
“Uh, I need him to know that I have forgiven him for what he did. That doesn’t mean I like him. That doesn’t mean I want to be his pen pal. But for me to go on, I had to forgive him.”
After hearing that, Justin Dickens was asked if he had any message for Christi Carter.
He replied, “Thank you. I mean, thank you. I know I’m not worth nothing, but thank you. Really, thank you.”
Death row inmate Justin Dickens has been forgiven by the daughter of the man he murdered
— Crime+Investigation UK (@CI) June 11, 2018