Prosecutors are examining evidence that could produce hate crime counts in the murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas confirmed at a press conference this morning. Woodward allegedly stabbed Bernstein repeatedly and buried his body in the California park where it was later found, the District Attorney's Office said in a press release. After questioning, authorities kept Woodward under surveillance for two days while they tested DNA evidence.
Orange County School of the Arts High school yearbook senior tribute to Blaze Bernstein.
If convicted, Woodward faces 26-years to life in prison.
Bernstein had been visiting his parents' home in Lake Forest while on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania.
"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.
His body was found a week later with stab wounds.
On Jan. 3, Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein contacted the Orange County Sheriff's Department because their son had missed a dental appointment.
Prosecutors said he cleaned up his vehicle and took other measures to avoid leaving his DNA behind, and that he visited the scene days after the crime.
The affidavit also quoted text conversations between Bernstein and a female friend last summer in which Bernstein wrote that he wanted to have sex with Woodward. "We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community".
Gideon Bernstein reported that his son was a pre-med student who meant to major in psychology and minor in chemistry.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department announced that it had found Bernstein's body on January 10 during a search of Borrego Park in Southern California.
Police first identified Woodward as a person of interest after following a trail of messages found on Bernstein's social media accounts, including correspondence on Snapchat the night before his disappearance. Investigators noted that Woodward "clenched his jaw and fists" as he recounted the story, adding that "he wanted Blaze to get off of him". The two parked outside a Hobby Lobby in Lake Forest where, according to Woodward, Bernstein kissed him on the mouth.
Rodney Lischer, left, and his son Matt, 20, of Lake Forest pay their respects at the memorial set up for Blaze Bernstein in Borrego Park in Lake Forest on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. We were proud of everything he did and who he was. Woodward could not remember his girlfriend's name or where she lived, the newspaper reported.
"This is a senseless murder of a young man who possessed a combination of a high-caliber mind and the heart of a poet", Rackauckas said today. He was recently named the managing editor of Penn Appétit, a food magazine at the University of Pennsylvania.
This Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 booking photo provided by the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff's Department shows Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20.
Woodward, whose occupation is listed in jail records as "nerf games", is in Orange County Jail without bail.
Bernstein's parents issued a statement in which they addressed the issue that the killing was a possible hate crime.