News (USA)

Jury finds killer of Blaze Bernstein guilty of murder and a hate crime

Samuel Woodward Blaze Bernstein
Samuel Woodward (l) has been arrested on suspicion of homicide in the death of Blaze Bernstein (r). Photo: Orange County Sheriff's Department

Samuel Woodward, the neo-Nazi who murdered gay, Jewish student Blaze Bernstein, was found guilty of first-degree murder with a hate crime enhancement.

The ruling comes after a three-week trial where Woodward’s attorney tried to say that the killing was a spontaneous, irrational act, something the jury was not convinced by. The hate crime ruling led to audible cheers throughout the courtroom, which the judge had to quiet down.

Woodward will be sentenced to life in prison without parole on October 24.

Bernstein’s family celebrated the ruling.

“This is a great relief that justice was served and this despicable human who murdered our son will no longer be a threat to the public. Our family will now live our lives knowing that this murderer will no longer be able to hurt any other people,” Blaze’s mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, told NBC News Los Angeles.

Blaze’s family also said in a 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.”

“You heard me right out of the gate tell you that my client was guilty,” Woodward’s attorney Ken Morrison said to ABC News. “Guilty of a serious, violent homicide. But as you also know, there are many different kinds of homicide.”

Woodward killed Blaze during Blaze’s holiday trip back to California. The two were previously classmates and had agreed to reconnect. While the two talked at a park, Woodward struck, murdering Blaze in the dark by stabbing him 28 times.

“After having killed Bernstein, buried his body, and cleaned up, Woodward sent a text to a friend, ‘Hey man, life is good,’” said the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

During the trial, he described feeling “anger like nothing I had ever felt in my whole life,” leading him to “just [keep] driving and driving and driving the knife down.” His defense attorney asked Woodward if he remembered how many times he stabbed Bernstein, to which he responded, “No.”

Inconsistencies in Woodward’s testimony came to light during the trial when compared to what he said in 2018, shortly after the crime was committed. He had initially claimed that Blaze had left to see someone else for a short while before coming back to try and kiss Woodward, which led to the murder. In his testimony, however, he claimed Woodward had groped him while he was intoxicated and threatened to share pictures of his genitals online.

No evidence of his testimony surfaced. However, evidence to the contrary appeared on both men’s phones.

In his testimony, Woodward failed to mention that he had previously moved to Texas to train with the Neo-Nazi hate group, Atomwaffen Division. This group advocates for a violent, trained militia to violently hurt and kill minorities, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Woodward had over 100 pieces of extremist content on his phone at the time of the murder, much of which was related to extremist content. Hateful material was found on his laptop and social media accounts as well, including racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic content.

In the months before the murder, Woodward went on Grindr to sent people he interacted with pictures of gay men being violently murdered. He bragged about posing as “gay curious” before calling gay men “f*ggots,” and saying that they deserved violence and death.

Two weeks before the murder, he posted a picture of a bloody knife to Snapchat, saying, “Texting is boring, but murder isn’t.”

“Hate will never be tolerated here in Orange County,” said District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “Instead of a figure to be admired by other haters, Woodward serves as a stark reminder of our commitment to protecting vulnerable members of society from violence fueled by hatred and fear.”

Prosecutor and Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said to ABC News, “I’m just so happy for the Bernsteins because it has been a very painful process. [Woodward] already had his bags, he was already talking to Atomwaffen people about going somewhere else, and he thought he was going to get away with it. It’s only by the grace of God that rain happened, and they found his body.”

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