Crime & Justice

Murder charge filed in college student Blaze Bernstein's killing

This Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 booking photo provided by the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff's Department shows Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20. Authorities arrested Woodward, described as a friend of Blaze Bernstein, in the killing of the 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student found buried Jan. 8, in a shallow grave at a park in Lake Forest, Calif.
This Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 booking photo provided by the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff's Department shows Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20. Authorities arrested Woodward, described as a friend of Blaze Bernstein, in the killing of the 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student found buried Jan. 8, in a shallow grave at a park in Lake Forest, Calif.
AP

A murder charge has been filed against a suspect in the death of a University of Pennsylvania student whose body was found buried and stabbed in a Southern California park.

Samuel Woodward, 20, was charged with one felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a knife in the death of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, according to District Attorney Tony Rackauckus.

Authorities have said Bernstein was visiting his parents during his college's winter break when he went to a park with Woodward Jan. 2. His body was found in a shallow grave there a week later. Woodward was arrested soon after.

This image provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Department shows Blaze Bernstein, the 19-year-old college student who was found dead at a park while on winter break from his studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
This image provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Department shows Blaze Bernstein, the 19-year-old college student who was found dead at a park while on winter break from his studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Orange County Sheriff's Department

"This is a senseless murder of a young man who possessed a high caliber mind and the heart of poet," Rackauckus said at a Wednesday morning press conference.

Prosecutors were continuing to search for evidence that might support further sentencing enhancements, including the possibility that Bernstein's death was a hate crime, Rackauckus said. Bernstein's parents have said their son was gay.

"Blaze should be back at college right now, doing what college kids do — going to class, organizing study notes, hanging out with his friends, dreaming about who they're going to become," Rackauckus said.

Woodward and Bernstein knew each other from the Orange County School of the Arts, but investigators were not able to say whether or not they were friends at the time.

Prosecutors said Woodward used the social media service Snapchat to communicate with Bernstein on the day of the murder. Woodward then drove to the Lake Forest home of Bernstein's parents to pick him up.

The exact time and place where Bernstein was killed is still unknown, but prosecutors accused Woodward of later cleaning the car he used to pick the victim up.

Woodward was found with abrasions, scratches and dirt on his hands, Rackauckus said. He was also said to have visited the crime scene days after Bernstein's death.

Rackauckus said no additional details would be revealed until the preliminary hearing.

This story has been updated.