Blaze Bernstein Murder Trial Finally Begins Over Six Years After Incident

The trial of the man accused in the 2018 fatal stabbing of a 19-year-old gay university student finally got underway in Southern California last week, the Associated Press reported.

Samuel Woodward, 26, is accused of fatally stabbing gay University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein while he was home with family on winter break.

Bernstein, who went to high school with Woodward in Orange County, went missing on January 2, 2018. Woodward was arrested a week later after Bernstein’s body was found in the Lake Forest park where he and Woodward had gone that night buried in a shallow grave.

Woodward was linked to the murder through DNA. Investigators found a trove of antisemitic, anti-gay materials on his cell phone and a journal filled with hate-filled, profanity-laced entries, including a “diary of hate” that described the threats he made against gay people online.

In her opening statement last Tuesday, prosecutor Jennifer Walker asserted that Woodward specifically targeted Bernstein because he was gay.

According to Walker, Woodward was part of an antisemitic, anti-gay group called Atomwaffen. In the weeks before he stabbed Bernstein 28 times, Woodward was seeking to escalate his attacks from words to actions.

Woodward pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder with a hate crime enhancement

In his opening statement, Woodward’s attorney Ken Morrison did not deny that Woodward attacked Bernstein but argued that the defendant did not plan to kill anyone that night nor did he hate Bernstein because he was gay.

Morrison contended that Woodward suffered from a long-undiagnosed disorder on the autism spectrum and was confused about his sexuality growing up in a devoutly Catholic and politically conservative family with a father who was critical of gays.

Morrison told the jury that while the evidence did show that Woodward was guilty of homicide, what happened that night “was not a hate crime.”

Woodward is likely to testify in the trial, which is expected to last for several months.

The case took years to go to trial over questions about Woodward’s mental state and following several changes in representation. Woodward was finally deemed competent to stand trial in late 2022.