Hate Crime Conviction: Orange County Man Found Guilty of Murdering Gay Classmate in Brutal Stabbing

Lake Forest, California – A man from Orange County was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday for the killing of his former high school classmate in 2018. Jurors also determined that Samuel Woodward committed a hate crime when he stabbed 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein to death, leaving his body in a shallow grave at Borrego Park in Lake Forest. The victim sustained multiple stab wounds to the face and neck.

In a courtroom filled with tension, audible cheers erupted upon the announcement of the hate crime conviction. Following the verdict, Blaze Bernstein’s mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, expressed relief that justice had been served and that the individual responsible for her son’s murder would no longer pose a threat to society.

The convicted man, Samuel Woodward, remained stoic and expressionless as the jury’s decision was delivered. The verdict was reached following a single day of deliberation after a trial where the prosecution argued that Woodward, affiliated with an anti-gay and anti-Semitic group, targeted gay men online before abruptly cutting off communication.

With sentencing enhancements for a hate crime and the use of a deadly weapon, Woodward faces a potential life sentence without the possibility of parole. Despite his defense attorney’s claims that Woodward did not harbor hatred towards Bernstein and that the killing was not premeditated, the prosecution maintained that the crime was motivated by hate towards the victim’s sexual orientation.

Throughout the trial, Woodward’s defense cited his struggles with autism and susceptibility to white supremacist groups as contributing factors to the tragedy. Woodward confessed to meeting Bernstein on a dating app and recounted feeling threatened during a sexual encounter with the victim, leading to a fit of rage that culminated in the fatal stabbing.

As the trial unfolded, emotional testimonies from witnesses, including family members, friends, and law enforcement, shed light on the events leading up to Bernstein’s murder. Woodward’s own testimony, marked by lengthy pauses and emotional outbursts, provided insight into the events that tragically unfolded at Borrego Park in 2018.