The man charged with the brutal murder of gay college student Blaze Bernstein is officially going to trial for the crime.
A judge ordered Samuel Woodward, 21, to stand trial in Orange County Superior Court on murder and hate crime charges. The decision came after prosecutors presented sufficient evidence linking Woodward to the crime.
In early 2018, authorities found the body of Bernstein in a shallow grave in California. He had been stabbed over 20 times in the face and neck. A month ago, prosecutors also charged Woodward with a hate crime, finding evidence that Bernstein’s sexuality was part of the motivation for his death.
To get him to trial, prosecutors showed the judge DNA evidence linking Woodward to the stabbing. They also revealed homophobic and neo-Nazi material on his phone.
In emails to himself, Woodward alleged he sent photos of gay men being killed on Grindr. The background of his phone was the logo of Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi group.
Woodward is pleading not guilty to all charges.
A senseless act of hate
Bernstein was visiting his parents in California, home for winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, when he was killed.
He allegedly connected with Woodward, a former schoolmate, on Snapchat. The two went to a park together after Woodward picked up Bernstein.
Woodward told investigators he was ‘disgusted’ when Bernstein kissed him, but that he didn’t do anything violent. Authorties arrested him a week after Bernstein’s body was found.
Forensic scientist Corrie Maggay testified in the case. Magay said blood from a knife found in Woodward’s bedroom, under his watch, and on the visor of his car matched Bernstein so closely that the chance of a match to someone else was 1-in-a-trillion.
Defense lawyer Edward Munoz argued there was no evidence of a hate crime.
‘I think in a hate crime instance you have to have an outward manifestation of your loathing to the world,’ he said, referring to Woodward’s emails only to himself.
If Woodward is convicted for the hate crime and first-degree murder, prosecutors could seek a sentence of life in prison without parole.