Saturday, July 20, 2024

A former classmate is convicted of murdering gay teenager Blaise Bernstein

Bernstein, 19, was stabbed to death in a park in 2018.

Samuel Woodward, a California man accused of murdering his former classmate in 2018, has been found guilty of a hate crime.

Blaise Bernstein — a 19-year-old gay, Jewish student at the University of Pennsylvania — disappeared in January 2018 while visiting his family in Newport Beach during winter break. His body was found after a day of searching. She went to Lake Forest with Woodward the night she disappeared, authorities said. Prosecutors said he was stabbed 28 times.

Woodward, now 26, was charged with first-degree murder with a hate crime enhancement. Prosecutors alleged that Woodward killed his high school classmate because Bernstein was gay.

Woodward has pleaded not guilty.

A jury reached its verdict Wednesday afternoon following a nearly three-month trial in Orange County.

There was some applause from the gallery after Woodward was found guilty of promoting a hate crime, prompting Judge Kimberly Menninger to ask people to “settle down.”

“I understand it’s emotional, but I can’t have it,” he said.

Sentencing has been announced on October 25. He faces life without parole.

Bernstein’s family said in a statement that the verdict “brings closure” six and a half years after the teenager’s murder, but “it cannot erase the pain of losing our son and the pain of waiting all these years. Without resolution.”

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“No judgment can bring Blaze back. He was a wonderful man and humanitarian and someone we looked up to so much in our lives and saw wonderful things from him as his young life unfolded,” the family said in a statement. At a press conference following the verdict, Rep. “From this funny, articulate, kind, intelligent, caring and brilliant scientist, artist, writer, chef and son, there will be no one like him. His gifts can no longer be felt or shared.”

Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker, who prosecuted the case, said she was grateful for the verdict.

“I’m very happy for the Bernsteins because it was a very painful process,” he said at the press conference.

Defense attorney Ken Morrison told jurors during closing arguments that Woodward was guilty of murder, though he said it was not a hate crime but a random, irrational act.

“You heard me say right out of the gate that my client was guilty,” Morrison said. “Guilty of a serious, violent murder. But you know, there are different types of murder.”

Woodward testified during the trial that on the night of the murder, Bernstein scared him into thinking he might be recording himself sexually touching her in the park, then pulled out a knife, ABC Los Angeles station KABC reported. reported.

Walker told jurors during closing arguments that Woodward’s hatred of gays and his association with the far-right, neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen — led him to plan the murder.

“He already had his bags, he was already talking to the Atomwaffen people about going somewhere else, and he thought he was going to get away with it,” he said. “It was by God’s grace that it rained and they found his body.”

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