FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Case # 18HF0073  

Date: August 2, 2018

OCDA FILES HATE CRIME SENTENCING ENHANCEMENT AGAINST FORMER CLASSMATE OF 19-YEAR-OLD BLAZE BERNSTEIN FOR MURDERING VICTIM DUE TO SEXUAL ORIENTATION

*Defendant faces life in state prison without the possibility of parole 

SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) filed an amended complaint today with a hate crime sentencing enhancement against Samuel Woodward for murdering 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein due to the victim’s sexual orientation.

“A hate crime enhancement based on sexual orientation is appropriate due to the evidence developed by looking at Woodward’s cell phone, laptop, and social media. All of this revealed the dark side of Woodward’s thoughts and intentions,” stated Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

“Many of us only came to know Blaze because of the senseless way his life was taken, but I think it is important that we focus on the contributions that he made during his life and the legacy he leaves behind,” said 34th District Senator Janet Nguyen.

“I have full faith in the legal process and that justice will be served in this case,” said 5th District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. “Intolerance based on gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation has no place in our society.”

“We live in a world where hate is real and the people that practice it can be hiding in your home in your child’s computer. We continue to look towards the future and what we can do to make a difference. We continue to Blazitforward for Blaze and for YOU and continuing his legacy of improving the human condition; One intentional act of kindness at a time. If we all started doing something about hate and about intolerance – we could change the world in a good way to prevent this type of heartache and injustice from happening again. We are grateful to the OCDA and OCSD for their continued hard work to bring us closure” stated Blaze’s parents.

Defendant

Charges

Maximum Sentence

Court Date

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 21, Newport Beach

Charged initially on Jan. 17, 2018, and amended today:

  • One felony count of murder

 

Sentencing Enhancement

  • Personal use of a knife
  • Hate crime murder – sexual orientation

Life in state prison without the possibility of parole

Preliminary Hearing

 

Aug. 22, 2018, 8:30 a.m.

 

Department H-7, Harbor Justice Center, Newport Beach

Circumstances of the Case

  • At approximately 11:00 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2018, Woodward is accused of picking up the victim, 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein, from his residence in Lake Forest. The victim and the defendant knew each other from attending Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana.
  • Woodward is accused of driving with the victim to the parking lot of a shopping center on Portola Parkway in Foothill Ranch.
  • Later that evening, Woodward is accused of driving the victim to Borrego Park in Lake Forest.
  • The defendant, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall and 185 pounds, is accused of murdering Bernstein, who was 5 feet 8 inches tall and 135 pounds, by stabbing the victim multiple times because of the victim’s sexual orientation.
  • Woodward is accused of burying the victim’s body in the dirt perimeter of Borrego Park.
  • On Jan. 3, 2018, Bernstein’s parents contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) to report the victim as a missing person.
  • After an eight day investigation which included a team of 25 search and rescue deputies, police K-9 dogs, multiple helicopter searches, and drones, OCSD investigators discovered the victim’s body on Jan. 9, 2018, in a shallow grave in Borrego Park.
  • OCSD arrested the defendant on Jan. 12, 2018, at his home in Newport Beach.

About Penal Code §190.03 (Hate Crime Murder)

To charge this allegation, the People must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Woodward committed the murder, in whole or in part, because of Bernstein’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with this actual or perceived characteristic.

The defendant acted, in whole or in part, because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation of the deceased person if:

  • The defendant was biased against the other person based on the other person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, or association with a person or group having this actual or perceived sexual orientation and
  • The bias motivation caused the defendant to commit the alleged murder.

If the defendant had more than one reason to commit the alleged murder, the bias must have been a substantial motivating factor.

The OCDA is continuing to investigate this case. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Supervising Investigator Kory DeGraffenreid at 714-347-8492.

Prosecutor: Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy, Homicide Unit

 



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