Cal­i­for­nia man pleads not guilty in killing of gay stu­dent

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Amy Taxin

SANTA ANA >> A South­ern Cal­i­for­nia man pleaded not guilty on Fri­day to the mur­der of a gay Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia stu­dent in a hate crime.

Samuel Wood­ward, a 21-year-old from Newport Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, en­tered the plea dur­ing a hear­ing in Orange County Su­pe­rior Court.

Bail was pre­vi­ously set at $5 mil­lion but Judge Kim­berly Men­ninger or­dered Wood­ward held with­out bail at pros­e­cu­tors’ re­quest, say­ing she be­lieved he would be a dan­ger to the com­mu­nity if re­leased.

Wood­ward is charged in the Jan­uary stab­bing death of 19-year-old col­lege sopho­more Blaze Bern­stein, who was home vis­it­ing his fam­ily on win­ter break.

Bern­stein, who was gay and Jew­ish, went miss­ing af­ter he went out with Wood­ward to a park in Lake For­est, Cal­i­for­nia. His body was found days later buried at the park in a shal­low grave.

Ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties, Wood­ward picked up Bern­stein from his par­ents’ home and stabbed him nearly 20 times in the face and neck. DNA ev­i­dence links Wood­ward to the crime and his cell­phone con­tained troves of anti-gay, anti-Semitic and hate group ma­te­ri­als, pros­e­cu­tors have said.

Au­thor­i­ties sub­mit­ted as ev­i­dence in the case im­ages of a knife, a blood­ied sleep­ing bag and pro­pa­ganda for Atomwaf­fen Divi­sion, a neo-Nazi group. The ma­te­ri­als in­clude swastikas and urge vi­o­lence against gay peo­ple.

De­fense at­tor­ney Robert Kohler, who ar­gued for $1 mil­lion bail, said on Fri­day that there was no ev­i­dence that Wood­ward posed a threat to any­one, and he hadn’t been able to make his pre­vi­ous bail any way.

Bern­stein was study­ing psy­chol­ogy and had been cho­sen to edit a cam­pus culi­nary mag­a­zine. He and Wood­ward both at­tended the same high school in Orange County.

Wood­ward, who ap­peared in a shirt and jacket in a caged area of the court­room, is due back in court Jan. 25. If con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der and the hate crime al­le­ga­tion, he faces a max­i­mum sen­tence of life in prison with­out pa­role.

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