Watch CBS News

Blaze Bernstein's accused killer Samuel Woodward set to stand trial. Prosecutors call it a hate crime.

In the Name of Hate
In the Name of Hate 42:02

Santa Ana, Calif. —  More than six years after University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein was killed, the Southern California man charged with stabbing him to death in an act of hate is expected to stand trial.

Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday in the murder case against now-26-year-old Samuel Woodward from Newport Beach, California. He has pleaded not guilty.

Woodward is charged with stabbing Bernstein to death. He was a 19-year-old gay, Jewish college sophomore who was home visiting his family on winter break. The two young men had previously attended the same high school in Orange County.

LEFT: Samuel Woodward | RIGHT: Blaze Bernstein (Credit: Orange County Sheriff's Office)

Bernstein went missing after he went out with Woodward to a park in Lake Forest, California, in January 2018. Bernstein's parents found his glasses, wallet and credit cards in his bedroom the next day when he missed a dentist appointment and wasn't responding to texts or calls, prosecutors wrote in a trial brief.

Days later, Bernstein's body was found buried at the park in a shallow grave.

Woodward picked Bernstein up from his parents' home after connecting with him on Snapchat and stabbed him nearly 20 times in the face and neck, authorities said.

DNA evidence linked Woodward to the killing and his cellphone contained troves of anti-gay, antisemitic and hate group materials, authorities said.

Woodward sought to become a member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, which espoused white supremacy, a year earlier, according to the prosecutors' brief. He made journal entries, including one titled "diary of hate" that described threats he said he had made to gay people online, the brief said.

A folding knife with a bloodied blade was found in Woodward's room at his parents' home in the upscale community of Newport Beach, authorities said. Woodward was arrested two days later.

Woodward has pleaded not guilty to murder with an enhancement for a hate crime.

At the time of his arrest, The Orange County Register reported that Woodward told investigators he became angry after Bernstein kissed him the night he disappeared.

His mother, Jeanne Bernstein, told CBS News his death was beyond difficult in every way imaginable. "When we think of a future without Blaze, that's crushing for us," Jeanne Bernstein said.

The case took years to go to trial after questions arose about Woodward's mental state and following multiple changes of defense attorneys. Woodward was deemed competent to stand trial in late 2022.

One of Woodward's previous lawyers said his client has Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder that generally causes difficulty with social interactions, and struggled with his own sexuality.

Ken Morrison, Woodward's attorney, urged the public to avoid jumping to conclusions about the case.

"For the past six years, the public has been reading and hearing a prosecution and muckraking narrative about this case that is simply fundamentally wrong," Morrison wrote in an email. "I caution everyone to respect our judicial process and wait until a jury has been able to see, hear, and evaluate all of the evidence."

The Orange County district attorney's office declined to comment on the case ahead of trial.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.