Hatred, DNA link California man to gay student’s slaying
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California man was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on charges that he murdered a gay University of Pennsylvania student in a hate crime after prosecutors linked him to the stabbing through DNA and showed he had troves of homophobic and hateful material on his mobile phone.
Samuel Woodward is accused of stabbing Blaze Bernstein at least 20 times after the two former high school peers met at a park last January. He has pleaded not guilty.
Woodward, 21, told investigators he was disgusted when Bernstein kissed him on the lips in his SUV and pushed him back, but didn’t say he did anything violent toward him.
Investigator Dylan Jantzen testified during a one-day preliminary hearing in Orange County Superior Court that Woodward wanted to call Bernstein an expletive and slur for homosexual men.
Bernstein, 19, went missing Jan. 2 and Woodward was arrested about a week later after the body was found in a shallow grave in the Lake Forest park where the two had gone that night.
Blood stains from the blade of 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 the genetic material coming from someone else was 1-in-a-trillion, forensic scientist Corrie Maggay testified.
Defense lawyer Edward Munoz didn’t present any witnesses, but showed on cross-examination that Woodward revealed he had autism and was socially awkward and sexually confused. He argued there was no evidence of a hate crime because reprehensible writings found on Woodward’s phone were not shared with others, but in emails to himself.
“I think in a hate crime instance you have to have an outward manifestation of your loathing to the world,” Munoz said after the hearing.
Investigator Craig Goldsmith testified that Woodward had over 100 pieces of content related to the violent hate group Atomwaffen. The group’s insignia was the wallpaper on his phone.
One email he sent himself was called “Sam’s Diary of Hate,” and he chatted online with a group about attending a “Death Valley Hate Camp” that included mention of weapons, Goldsmith said.
Two weeks before the slaying, next to an illustration of a bloody knife, he wrote on Snapchat: “Texting is boring, but murder isn’t,” according to Jantzen.
His phone also included pictures with Nazi references.
Bernstein, who was gay and Jewish, was visiting his parents in Lake Forest, California, during winter break from his sophomore year at Penn.
If convicted of first-degree murder and the hate crime allegation, prosecutors could seek a sentence of up to life in prison without parole.