'Bi-curious' neo-Nazi convicted of stabbing gay classmate to death

First published: 12:29 PDT, July 10, 2024

“Hey man, life is beautiful.”

That's the text Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 26, sent to a friend just hours after burying his former high school classmate Blaze Bernstein in a shallow grave while returning home to visit family in California during the holidays, according to authorities.

Six years after the horrific attack, a jury convicted Woodward of first-degree murder. murder as well as a hate crime conviction and personal use of a knife after a three-month trial. Bernstein was gay and Jewish, but the hate crime conviction related to his sexuality, not his religious beliefs.

Woodward and Bernstein had both attended the Orange County School of the Arts and had connected online while Bernstein was home for winter break, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

Bernstein was on winter vacation at the University of Pennsylvania when he agreed to meet Woodward on the night of January 2, 2018.

Prosecutors said Woodward was unaware that while he was a medical student at an Ivy League university 3,000 miles away, he had traveled to Texas to study and train with the neo-Nazi and anti-gay group Atomwaffen. Woodward allegedly pledged allegiance to the group and “continued to draw images related to Atomwaffen and their beliefs after his arrest for Bernstein’s murder,” a prosecutor’s spokesman said.

Investigators also discovered what prosecutors called a “hate diary” kept by Woodward. The diary contained insults toward gay men and detailed how Woodward would connect with men online and lead them to believe he was “bi-curious,” before removing them from his contact list, prosecutors said at trial.

Woodward picked up Bernstein near his home shortly after 11 p.m. and drove to a nearby park for what Bernstein believed was a romantic encounter between the two, according to online communications between the two men obtained by prosecutors.

Once at the park, prosecutors said Woodward stabbed Bernstein 28 times and then dumped his body in a shallow grave.

Bernstein's parents reported him missing the next day. His body was discovered a week later when heavy rains washed away the earth from his makeshift grave.

Investigators were later tipped off to Woodward as a suspect when Bernstein's parents reviewed his online communications in the hours before his death, prosecutors said. Woodward admitted to meeting Bernstein, but told police he walked away from Bernstein with an “unknown person” after they arrived at the park, prosecutors said.

Police were able to obtain a search warrant and found Bernstein's blood on a knife belonging to Woodward, as well as the skull mask he wore to represent his allegiance to Atomwaffen, prosecutors said.

At trial, Woodward's attorneys argued that their client was conflicted about his own sexuality and that he did not hate Bernstein or intend to kill him that night. His attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

“Each of the 28 stab wounds inflicted on 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein was an act of hate that was repeated over and over again, not only to kill Blaze, but to send a message,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said after the jury returned its verdict.

He went on to say, “Samuel Woodward is someone who educated himself on how and who to hate, surrounded himself with other hateful people, and committed the ultimate act of hatred: brutally stabbing someone to death because they embody everything you hate simply because of who they love.”

Woodward will be sentenced on October 25 and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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