The man charged in connection to the murder of former Penn sophomore Blaze Bernstein will officially stand trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.
In a pre-trial hearing, an Orange County judge determined prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to order Samuel Woodward to stand trial on murder and hate crime charges, US News & World Reports reported. Evidence included DNA results from blood stains and an abundance of homophobic and anti-Semitic messages on Woodward's cell phone. Bernstein was gay and Jewish.
The evidence and testimonies presented in court provided the most vivid glimpse into the interactions and relationship between Woodward and Bernstein leading up to Bernstein's death.
Throughout the one-day hearing, details emerged that Woodward and Bernstein had connected over Snapchat and Woodward picked up Bernstein from his home on the night he died.
A forensic scientist testified that it was nearly impossible for the blood stains found on a knife in Woodward's bedroom, under his watch, and on the visor of Woodward's car to come from anyone other than Bernstein.
Orange County Sheriff's Department Investigator Craig Goldsmith also took the stand, saying Woodward's phone contained a host of homophobic content. An email was found detailing Woodward's attempts to prank gay men on Grindr, an online app used to connect with other gay men. He would pretend to be "gay curious" to attract them and later would reveal the deception as a prank, US News & World Report reported.
Woodward's lawyer Edward Muñoz did not present any witnesses during the hearing and argued that Woodward was sexually confused, socially awkward, and had autism.
Woodward and Bernstein were high school classmates at the Orange County School of the Arts. Bernstein went missing while home in California for winter break. His body was found a week after he was announced to be missing.
Woodward was charged with murder on Jan. 17, two weeks after Bernstein disappeared. A sealed affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register revealed Woodward told investigators that on the night of the murder Bernstein, who was gay, had tried to kiss him.
Goldsmith also said Woodward had over 100 pieces of content relating to the white supremacist group Atomwaffen, including an image of the group's insignia serving as his phone's background, the Washington Post reported.
In January, ProPublica released a report showing that Woodward trained with the Neo-Nazi group.
When questioned in August about the hateful memes and messages Woodward allegedly posted online, Muñoz told reporters his client faced social burdens due to autism.
“They don’t formulate lasting personal relationships in their life,” Muñoz said to Buzzfeed News. “They’re very isolated people. That leads them to go where they’re accepted.”
He added that Woodward made social connections through race.
“He is a blonde, blue-eyed young man,” Muñoz said. “There’s only going to be certain clubs he’s going to be allowed into.”
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