The primary suspect in the homicide case of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein was charged with murder on Jan. 17 for allegedly stabbing Bernstein to death.
At a press conference on the afternoon of Jan. 17, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced there would be a bail hearing later that day for defendant Samuel Woodward, 20, with the scheduled amount set at $1 million. He said bail likely will be set “because it’s a murder case, but it’s not a special circumstance case.”
But by later that afternoon, it was reported that prosecutors had persuaded a judge to remove the option of allowing Woodward to get out on bail. Woodward's arraignment has now been postponed until Feb. 2. If he is convicted of the charges laid out on Wednesday, Woodward could face 26 years to life in state prison, the Register reported.
“We’re going to work to try to make it as high as we can under the circumstances,” Rackauckas said. “You’ll hear the arguments in court, but we have some reasons to suggest bail should be higher.”
On Jan. 15, it was revealed that Bernstein, who was gay, was stabbed over 20 times in what authorities suggest was "an act of rage."
Rackauckas began the press conference on Wednesday by noting the heights and weights of the defendant — 6 foot 2 inches, 185 pounds — and of the victim — 5 foot 8 inches, 135 pounds — and by detailing the accusations that have been made against Woodward, who had attended high school with Bernstein at the Orange County School of the Arts.
Woodward was accused of communicating with Bernstein through Snapchat on Jan. 2, the night of Bernstein’s disappearance; he was accused of picking up Bernstein that night at his parents’ home after communicating via social media; he was accused of having abrasions, scratches, and dirt on his hands; and he was accused of cleaning up the car he used the night he picked up Bernstein.
Additionally, Rackauckas said Woodward was accused of visiting the crime scene in the days following Bernstein’s murder.
“This is a senseless murder of a young man who possessed a combination of a high caliber mind and a heart of a poet,” Rackauckas said.
Bernstein's death has had a profound impact on the community of Lake Forest, CBS reported. This is the only homicide reported in the city in the past four years, authorities said. Hundreds of people attended his funeral held earlier this week.
At Penn, Bernstein had been elected to serve as the managing editor of the food magazine Penn Appétit just before he returned home from break. He was also a copy associate for Penn Review and was slated to work as a copy associate for 34th Street Magazine.
Following Woodward's arrest, there have been reports that the murder was also a hate crime specifically targeted against Bernstein's sexuality. Rackauckas said at the press conference that they have yet to establish motive, but that they were “open to all evidence.”
“The question of a hate crime is one question that we have about the possibility of special circumstances, and so we’re looking to see whether or not that might be supported,” he said.
Bernstein’s parents, Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper, said to the LA Times that a hate crime could be a possibility in the murder of their son.
“Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything. We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community,” the Bernsteins wrote to the LA Times.
“If it is determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of [a] hate crime,” they added.
Bernstein went missing five days before he was meant to return to campus for the start of his second semester. He was on the pre-med track and Bernstein’s father said his son was considering majoring in psychology.
“Blaze should be back at college right now doing what college students do,” Rackauckas said at the press conference. “Going to class, organizing study notes, hanging out with his friends, dreaming about who they were going to become.”