The lawyer of a man accused of killing a gay man in a hate crime said that his client is struggling with his sexuality himself.
Samuel Woodward appeared in court yesterday and denied a hate crime allegation against him. Prosecutors have charged him with first-degree murder in connection to the death of Blaze Bernstein, a student at the University of Pennsylvania.
Investigators believe that Woodward, 21, stabbed Bernstein, 19, twenty times this past January in Lake Forest, California, because Bernstein was gay. They found racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, and homophobic materials on Woodward’s computer and phone.
“There’s a lot there that just spews hatred towards a lot of different groups of people, basically every protected group,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
But Woodward’s lawyer Edward Muñoz said that his client was just looking for acceptance because he has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), formerly known as “Asperger’s syndrome.” ASD can cause difficulty in social interactions, but there’s no evidence that it leads to violence.
“He has a lot of issues, I think, around sexual orientation,” the lawyer added. “There’s going to be some evidence that comes out [at trial] that shows he’s very confused.”
Prosecutors have found more evidence of Woodward’s hatred online. They said that he has a following on iFunny, a site for racist and otherwise offensive memes. A search of the site shows dozens of memes tagged #blazebernstein, many of them lauding Woodward for killing a “gay Jew.”
ProPublica reported in January that Woodward trained with the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, and a photo of him with the hate group was found.
Sam Woodward, the alleged killer of Blaze Bernstein, with members of Atomwaffen, violent neo-Nazi organization in Texas this past summer. pic.twitter.com/qYCtMpOkJ8
— A.C. Thompson (@ACInvestigates) January 27, 2018
Muñoz, though, said that all of this was a result of Woodward’s ASD.
People with ASD “don’t formulate lasting personal relationships in their life,” Muñoz said. “They’re very isolated people. That leads them to go where they’re accepted.”
“He is a blonde, blue-eyed young man,” he added. “There’s only going to be certain clubs he’s going to be allowed into.”
He did not elaborate on the rampant discrimination against blond, blue-eyed young men in America that forces them to turn to neo-Nazis.