Orange County

Suspect in Blaze Bernstein Case Accused of Murdering Classmate Because He Was Gay

"We will prove that Woodward killed Blaze because Blaze is gay," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.

The Orange County district attorney's office announced Thursday an amended criminal complaint in the murder of college student Blaze Bernstein. The hate crime enhancement against Samuel Woodward alleges the now 21-year-old murdered his former high school classmate because he was gay.

"We will prove that Woodward killed Blaze because Blaze is gay," OCDA Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference. 

It enhances Woodward's possible maximum sentence from 26 years to life in prison to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Bernstein went missing late Jan. 2 after Woodward picked him up from his parents' home in Lake Forest. Bernstein, who was on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, knew Woodward from attending Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana together. 

Following an eight-day investigation, Bernstein's body -- which was stabbed multiple times -- was found in a shallow grave in Borrego Park in Lake Forest.

Woodward was arrested days later on Jan. 12 at his Newport Beach home.

On Jan. 17, he was officially charged with one felony count of murder. 

"We live in a world where hate is real and the people that practice it can be hiding in your home in your child’s computer. We continue to look towards the future and what we can do to make a difference. We continue to Blaze it forward for Blaze and for YOU and continuing his legacy of improving the human condition; One intentional act of kindness at a time," Blaze's mother Jeanne said. 

The hate crime enhancement alleges Woodward carried out the killing due to Bernstein's sexual orientation.

It's "appropriate" due to the evidence found on the suspect's cellphone, laptop and social media, Rackauckas said.

"All of this revealed the dark side of Woodward's thoughts and intentions." 

Rackauckas added that the digital evidence contained "graphic, chilling" images and "can be described as spewing hate toward almost every protected group." He said the texts and photos were racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and anti-government. 

There could be additional charges filed as evidence develops, the district attorney said. 

The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information that would help prove Woodward's membership in an organization that promotes hate was asked to contact OCDA Homicide Unit Supervising Investigator Kory Degraffenreid at 714-347-8492.

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