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Samuel Woodward describes how he stabbed former classmate Blaze Bernstein to death – Redlands Daily Facts

Samuel Woodward moves hair away from his face after his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ken Morrison, asks him to do so during testimony in Orange County Superior Court Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Santa Ana. Woodward is accused of stabbing to death his former Orange County School of the Arts classmate, Blaze Bernstein, more than six years ago and burying her body near a Foothill Ranch park. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG, Pool)

Samuel Woodward testified Thursday that he felt “anger like I've never felt in my entire life” as he repeatedly stabbed his former classmate Blaze Bernstein in a Lake Forest park before burying Bernstein “with bare hands”.

Woodward, in a dramatic climax to his fourth day of testimony in a Santa Ana courtroom, described Bernstein's violent killing after claiming Bernstein touched his genitals. Woodward testified that he was concerned that Bernstein had taken an explicit photo of him and sent it via text message to other people, leading him to first try to seize Bernstein's cell phone and then to attack him.

“I just kept driving and driving and sticking the knife in,” Woodward testified.

“When you say stick the knife in, Sam, did you stab Blaze?” asked Deputy Public Defender Ken Morrison.

“At that point, yes, I was,” Woodward responded, as Bernstein’s mother abruptly rushed out of the courtroom.

Do you remember how many times you stabbed Blaze? » said Morrison.

“No,” Woodward replied.

“What were you thinking?” » asked the defense lawyer. “Do you remember what you were thinking when you plunged the knife in again and again and again?”

“Anger like I’ve never felt in my entire life,” Woodward said.

Woodward's testimony was very different from the story he told police and Bernstein's family at the time of Bernstein's disappearance and murder in January 2018. At that time, Woodward admitted to meeting Bernstein at the park, but had claimed that Bernstein had gone to meet another person whose identity Woodward did not know. Although it was not mentioned during his murder trial, Woodward also claimed at one point to police that Bernstein tried to kiss him, leading Woodward to push him away.

The fact that Woodward, then 20, killed Bernstein, 19 — a former classmate at the Orange County School of the Arts — was not disputed during his murder trial. But the defense denied the prosecution's assertion that Woodward committed the murder because Bernstein was gay. A hate crime would carry a longer sentence.

Woodward grew up in a conservative, religious family, is on the autism spectrum and was a social outcast at OCSA, according to his trial testimony, where his more conservative beliefs and sometimes seemingly homophobic comments were at odds with those from his more liberal classmates.

In the years following their shared time at OCSA, Bernstein had enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania, while Woodward had dropped out, moving to Texas to train with the division Atomwaffen – a neo-Nazi extremist group – and then returned to live with his parents in Newport Beach.

The prosecution argued that Woodward's beliefs led him to target Bernstein because of his sexuality. The defense countered by describing Woodward as confused about his own sexuality, although Woodward apparently denied this during his testimony.

Woodward previously said that in January 2018, he contacted Bernstein – who was visiting family in Lake Forest over winter break – because he was looking for someone to date, adding that Bernstein suggested that they meet again that evening. His earlier testimony ended with the two men sitting on a bench in Borrego Park, walking back to Woodward's car.

Woodward, in his testimony on Thursday, June 20, said he took a bag of snacks he took home as well as a sleeping bag he kept in his car containing marijuana paraphernalia and that he had returned with Bernstein to the park.

The two talked and joked about their experiences in high school, Woodward said, and complained to each other about their challenges in college. Woodward described rolling a joint and taking a few puffs of marijuana. When asked what effect it had on him that evening, Woodward recalled that “it was mostly like listening to a bunch of music.”

As a feeling of relaxation came over him, Woodward testified that he closed his eyes, “tuned out” and began to fall asleep. Woodward said he felt Bernstein getting closer to him, but he thought Bernstein was pulling something out of the bag.

Woodward said he felt “something pretty close” to his leg, which led him to fear he had urinated on himself. When he opened his eyes, Woodward testified, his pants were unbuckled and Bernstein had one hand on his crotch and the other holding a cell phone.

“When I looked at him and I saw him and I saw the light of the phone and I realized what he had in his hand, I just – I went and I I just – I came undone,” Woodward said. “I went there in a state of terror. I remember just asking, “What are you doing, what are you doing?” » I just remember asking over and over, “What are you doing?” “

“I don't remember if he said anything like 'Calm down' or 'It's no big deal,'” Woodward added. “He kept saying something to me that sounded like 'It's already done' and 'I got you, I got you.'”

Woodward described himself as “chattering incoherently.” He claimed Bernstein told him something like “I got you, you (expletive) hypocrite” while possibly using the word “unmasked.”

Woodward seemed reluctant to discuss exactly where Bernstein touched him. He described it as “his inner thigh,” before adding, following repeated clarifying questions from the defense attorney, that Bernstein was also touching his penis. When asked if Bernstein rubbed or fondled him, Woodward said he didn't remember.

According to Woodward's testimony, he was in “mortal terror” after seeing Bernstein wiretap his cell phone. He said he was concerned that Bernstein had sent an explicit photo of himself to someone else.

“What were you afraid of?” » asked the defense lawyer.

“My dad – there's no way people like him, people in our community, people in our neighborhood – just the look on his face if he heard about something like that, if that was revealed one way or another,” Woodward said. “I couldn’t imagine something like that.”

Woodward said he began yelling at Bernstein at the top of his lungs. He described grabbing Bernstein's phone in rage, while also grabbing a knife he used to open a container of marijuana.

Woodward said he did not remember how many times he stabbed Bernstein or what Bernstein said at the time.

“I just remember trying to grab the phone and during that time and the subsequent fall, I just remember feeling nothing other than being scratched and bitten,” said Woodward.

In his testimony, Woodward said he remembered little about the aftermath of the killing, although he admitted to burying Bernstein among the vegetation at the edge of the park, where Bernstein was found six days later.

“It was all one big flood,” Woodward said. “I just remember losing my mind. I remember not knowing what to do.

Woodward denied planning to kill Bernstein that night, that the killing had anything to do with Atomwaffen, or that it was because Bernstein was gay or Jewish.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Walker had little time late Thursday to question Woodward about his description of the killing. But the prosecutor noted that Woodward then sent messages to Bernstein's phone that made it appear Bernstein left and never returned.

“You killed Blaze, you buried him and then you were going to continue to cover up the crime?” » Walker asked.

“That wasn’t my intention, no,” Woodward replied.

As he had during the previous three days of testimony, Woodward repeatedly took long pauses – sometimes with his eyes appearing closed – before answering his lawyer's question, sometimes taking up to 30 seconds before respond. Morrison repeatedly asked Woodward to raise his head, brush his hair out of his face and look at either the lawyer or the jury.

Woodward also had to be repeatedly prodded by his lawyer to move forward with his account of what happened the night of the murder.

“Do you think Blaze Bernstein deserved to die that night? Morrison asked at one point.

“No,” replied Woodward.

Woodward is expected to return to the stand for further questioning by the prosecutor Monday morning.

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