The suspect in the murder of US student, Blaze Bernstein, has now also been charged with a hate crime. Prosecutors said they have evidence the killing was motivated by the fact Bernstein was gay.
Samual Woodward, 20, was originally charged with first-degree murder over the killing in January.
Blaze Bernstein, 19, was stabbed more than 20 times. His body was buried in a shallow grave in a park in Lake forest, California.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said for the first time, on Thursday, that he had evidence Bernstein was killed because of his sexual orientation.
Prosecution claims to have evidence
‘We will prove that Woodward killed Blaze because Blaze was gay, BuzzFeedNews reported Rackauckas as saying.
The two young men had attended high school together, and Bernstein was visiting home during a college break. Bernstein was Jewish and gay, and questions immediately arose about the motivations behind his murder, BuzzFeedNews reported.
A search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register revealed Woodward told investigators that Bernstein had kissed him the night of the killing.
The additional hate crime charge means Woodward faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, if convicted.
‘We believe that the evidence is sufficient to prove that the murder was intentional and premeditated, and done in the first degree, and also done substantially motivated by sexual orientation of the victim Blaze Bernstein,’ Rackauckas said.
Investigators examined Woodward’s cellphone, computer and social media
The DA added investigators had spent the last seven months examining Woodward’s phone, computer, and social media. The messages and images they reviewed were racist, misogynist, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti-government, Rackauckas said.
‘These images were graphic, chilling, and could be described as spewing hate toward almost every protected group,’ he said.
The district attorney said he could not comment more specifically on what evidence suggested the killing was motivated by anti-gay hatred and would not confirm if Woodward was an Atomwaffen Division member, but asked anyone with more information to contact Rackauckas’s office.
Bernstein’s parents spoke after the new hate crime accusation, standing in solidarity with other members of the LGBT community who had experienced hate.
‘Today we suffer an added layer of pain from learning [Blaze] was likely killed solely for who he was as a human being,’ his father, Gideon Bernstein, said.
His mother, Jeanne Pepper, called for people to practice kindness in Blaze’s memory. Their family has started a Facebook group, asking people to #BlazeItForward.
‘We live in a world where hate is real, and the people who practice it can be hiding in your child’s bedroom in their computer,’ she said. ‘If we all started doing something about hate and about intolerance, we could change the world.’