Prosecutors will seek hate crimes charges in the prosecution of a man accused of stabbing a gay student 20 times.
The body of Blaze Bernstein, 19, was found in a park in Lake Forest, California, this past January. He had been stabbed and his body was buried in a shallow grave.
Police tied Samuel Woodward, 21, a former high school classmate of Bernstein, to the scene through DNA evidence. He was arrested and charged with one count of felony murder.
Now prosecutors have added a hate crime enhancement because they believe that Woodward attacked Bernstein because he was gay.
Investigators say they found hateful materials on Woodward’s cellphone, laptop, and social media accounts. They did not say specifically what was found, other than that it was racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, and homophobic.
“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.
“So it’s hatred of many different groups of people. But the evidence of the motivation for this particular killing is we can show evidence that he killed him at least substantially, because he was gay.”
Police believe that Woodward picked Bernstein up from his parents’ home and that they went to the park where his body was later found together.
Woodward told investigators that Bernstein kissed him on the lips, and then he pushed Bernstein away.
Felony murder in California carries a maximum penalty of 26 years in prison. Hate crimes enhancements can lead to the death penalty only if a hate crime is based on race, religion, or nationality under California law, not sexual orientation.
He is being held on $5 million bail and he has plead not guilty.
Prosecutors are still investigating Woodward’s ties to neo-Nazi groups.