Penn student Blaze Bernstein was murdered because he was gay: prosecutors

The University of Pennsylvania student viciously stabbed to death and buried in a shallow grave in southern California last January was murdered because he was gay, authorities said Thursday.

Orange County’s top prosecutor announced the finding as he filed an amended complaint against suspected killer Samuel Woodward that now includes a “hate crime” sentencing enhancement.

The new enhancement means Woodward, 21, could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged.

Woodward previously was facing a maximum of 26 years to life for the single felony count of murder with a knife filed January 17.

It was a review of Woodward’s laptop, cell phone and social media accounts that revealed a sickening stockpile of homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic material, DA Tony Rackauckas said at a press conference.

“There's a lot there that just spews hatred towards a lot of different groups of people, basically every protected group,” Rackauckas said.

“So it’s hatred of many different groups of people. But the evidence of the motivation for this particular killing is we can show evidence that he killed him at least substantially because he was gay,” Rackauckas said.

“We have no room for this kind of hate in our society,” Rackauckas told reporters.

According to a report in late January, Woodward was a member of the notorious Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.

Two friends and a former member told ProPublica that Woodward joined the group, which celebrates Hitler and Charles Manson, in 2016.

Asked about Woodward’s alleged Neo-Nazi ties on Thursday, Rackauckas said he couldn’t comment.

“We live in a world where hate is real and the people that practice it can be hiding in your home in your child’s computer,” Bernstein’s parents said in a joint statement.

“We continue to look towards the future and what we can do to make a difference,” they said, encouraging others to continue their son’s “legacy of improving the human condition, one intentional act of kindness at a time.”

Woodward has pleaded not guilty to the killing. He is being held on $5 million bail with a preliminary hearing set for August 22.

Bernstein, 19, went missing while visiting his parents at their Lake Forest, Calif., home during his holiday break.

Woodward allegedly picked him up around 11 p.m. on January 2 and drove with him to the parking lot of a shopping center in Foothill Ranch, authorities said.

The two knew each other from their time attending Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana.

Woodward, who is 6 feet, two inches tall and 185 pounds, then drove Bernstein, who was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 135 pounds, to Borrego Park in Lake Forest, prosecutors said.

At some point, Woodward stabbed Bernstein repeatedly and buried his body in the dirt perimeter of the park, prosecutors said.

Bernstein’s parents reported him missing on Jan. 3, and a desperate search commenced with a team of 25 search and rescue deputies, K-9 dogs, helicopters and drones.

Bernstein’s body was found January 9. Woodward was arrested January 12 at his home in a tony section of nearby Newport Beach.

Under current California law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty when someone is murdered in a hate crime linked to their race, religion or nationality.

A new state law has been proposed to add sexual orientation to that list.

- With News Wire Reports