Samuel Woodward found guilty of first-degree murder with hate crime enhancement in Blaze Bernstein murder

An Orange County courtroom broke out in applause earlier this week after a jury foreman announced that Samuel Woodward, a 26-year-old from Newport Beach, had been found guilty in the first degree in the murder of 19-year-old college student Blaze Bernstein in 2018. The guilty determination included a hate crime enhancement.

Bernstein, a gay, Jewish student attending the University of Pennsylvania, was home visiting family in Lake Forest for the holidays, when Woodward, a former Orange County School of the Arts classmate, stabbed him 28 times during an evening out.

The murder took place near a park in Lake Forest on January 2, 2018. Woodward was accused of attempting to cover the murder up by burying Bernstein in a shallow grave in the nearby park.

Woodward, who appeared for the court proceedings with long, somewhat matted hair and a beard, somewhat resembled a Charles Manson look. Woodward acknowledged in court that on the night of the murder, he went into a fit of rage after accusing Bernstein of inappropriately touching him sexually.

Prosecuting attorneys attempted to point out to jurors throughout the trial that Woodward had a hatred of gay people and, in fact, had a previous affiliation with Atomwaffen Division, a far-right neo-Nazi group.

Following the guilty verdict the family of Bernstein offered the following statement: “No verdict can bring back Blaze. He was an amazing human and humanitarian and a person we were greatly looking forward to having in our lives, seeing wondrous things from him as his young life unfolded. From this funny, articulate, kind, intelligent, caring and brilliant scientist, artist, writer, chef and son, there will never be anyone quite like him. His gifts will never be realized or shared now.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley added, “On the heels of Pride Month, (today’s) jury verdict delivers long-awaited justice for Blaze Bernstein’s family after six years of uncertainty. Rightfully, the jury saw overwhelming evidence to prove that hate motivated the killer, resulting in a murder verdict carrying the harshest penalties for this heinous crime. We send our love to the family in an effort to uplift them during this emotional time.”

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said, “I am eternally grateful for the unwavering commitment and perseverance of Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker for her pursuit of justice not only for 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, but for every victim of hate. This was not a crime committed in the heat of passion; it was planned, it was carried out, and it was attempted to be covered up and Walker painstaking walked the jury through every piece of evidence that proved it.”

Woodward will return to court for sentencing on October 25, when he’ll face a potential sentence of life without the possibility of parole.


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