Alleged killer of Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein pleads not guilty


(JTA) — The man accused of killing Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein pleaded not guilty to murder and denied allegations that it was a hate crime.

Samuel Woodward, 21, made the plea on Friday in Orange County Superior Court. He had previously pleaded not guilty to the January murder of his former high school classmate during a preliminary hearing in September. In August, a hate crime charge was added alleging that Woodward targeted Bernstein because he was gay.

On Friday, Judge Kimberly Menninger ordered Woodward held without bail, saying she believed he would be a danger to the community if he were released. He had previously remained in jail, unable to make the $5 million bail.

Woodward was linked to the murder through DNA, including blood found on the blade of a knife in his bedroom and in his car.

In addition, a large amount of homophobic and neo-Nazi material was found on his mobile phone. Among the material on his phone, investigators found a plot to pose as “gay curious” to attract men and then reveal it as a prank.

Bernstein’s body was found in January after the 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student had gone missing from his parents’ Southern California home, which he had been visiting while on winter break. He had 20 stab wounds on his face and neck. Four days later Woodward was named as a murder suspect.

According to a January affidavit, Woodward told investigators that Bernstein had kissed him the night he went missing as the two sat in a parked car. Woodward said he rebuffed the move and Bernstein then left the car.

On Saturday night, CBS’ “48 Hours” aired an episode on Bernstein’s murder.

If convicted of first-degree murder and of a hate crime, Woodward faces life in prison without parole.

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