Neo-Nazi charged with hate crime for ‘killing gay college student he met online for a hookup’ testifies

Samuel Woodward, 26, was told by his attorney several times to push his hair away from his face as he took the witness stand. He is accused of killing Blaze Bernstein and testified during his own trial.   (© 2024, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Samuel Woodward, 26, was told by his attorney several times to push his hair away from his face as he took the witness stand. He is accused of killing Blaze Bernstein and testified during his own trial. (© 2024, Orange County Register/SCNG)

A Neo-Nazi who killed a classmate he met online for a hookup has taken the stand in his defense as he faces trial on hate-crime allegations.

Samuel Woodward - who grew up in a conservative, religious family - told the court about meeting Blaze Bernstein, 19, on Tinder. He said when they met, it was “awkward, because of who he was,” according to the Orange County Register.

“At that point he pretty much said, ‘Don’t worry, I get it, completely understand,’” Woodward said. He then admitted he made the first move.

“I’m pretty sure I said we should hang out at some point … and he said he was actually free (that) night, right now,” the 26-year-old said. “He said something else that was basically an offer to if I wanted to come over. At that point I said ‘Alright, cool.’”

Woodward said he picked up Bernstein from his home and the two drove to a park, where they started talking - however the day ended before Woodward could say what happened next.

The Jewish teen was found stabbed 20 times in the park in 2018. Prosecutors have said the killing was a hate crime. The defense does not contest the killing, but said it was not the result of hate.

Samuel Woodward, 26, was told by his attorney several times to push his hair away from his face as he took the witness stand. He is accused of killing Blaze Bernstein and testified during his own trial. (© 2024, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Samuel Woodward, 26, was told by his attorney several times to push his hair away from his face as he took the witness stand. He is accused of killing Blaze Bernstein and testified during his own trial. (© 2024, Orange County Register/SCNG)

It’s the third day on the stand for Woodward as he faces trial for killing Bernstein. Six years after the murder, Woodward appeared in an Orange County courtroom with long hair draped over his face, with his lawyer reminding him several times to push it aside so the jurors could look at him.

Woodward and Bernstein with both students at the Orange County School of the Arts. Before that, Bernstein was a briefly a student at the University of Pennsylvania to study pre-med. Woodward had dropped out of college and went to Texas. There he met with a Neo-Nazi extremist group Atomwaffen Division before moving back to his California parent’s home.

He relayed in court that there were moments in his life when he felt he did not have friends, and mostly, the only communication he had with other people was while talking online.

“I had been looking for people for a long time to spend time with or talk to,” Woodward said.

Screenshots of the online conversations between Woodward and Bernstein were shown during the trial, relaying how the pair had connected over the internet months before Bernstein had died, the outlet reported.

Bernstein was 19 years old at the time his body was found in a shallow grave of a local park in 2018. He was stabbed to death 20 times, in a killing prosecutors described as a hate crime. (Facebook)
Bernstein was 19 years old at the time his body was found in a shallow grave of a local park in 2018. He was stabbed to death 20 times, in a killing prosecutors described as a hate crime. (Facebook)

The attorney argued, the outlet reported, that a long-undiagnosed autism spectrum condition meant Woodward had challenges in relationships with others and was confused by his own sexuality, especially due to growing up in an environment where his father criticized homosexuality openly.

His attorney also argues that the narrative surrounding his client that has been put forward is flawed.

“There is this narrative that’s been pushed: Nazi kills gay Jew. From the defense perspective, that’s inaccurate,” Ken Morrison told the judge during a hearing leading up to the trial, the Los Angeles Times reports.

It took years for the case to go to trial due to questions surrounding Woodward’s mental state until he was deemed competent to stand trial in late 2022. The trial started in late April and is currently 28 days into the proceedings and three days into Woodward’s testimony.

Authorities connected Woodward to the crime after Bernstein’s family looked over his social media and saw he allegedly had contact with Woodward on social media.

Upon searching Woodward’s family home, the authorities allegedly found a folding knife with a bloodied blade in his room, along with a black Atomwaffen mask that had traces of blood on it.

In a statement before the trial went ahead, Morrison wrote that “for the past six years, the public has been reading and hearing a prosecution and muckraking narrative about this case that is simply fundamentally wrong.”

“I caution everyone to respect our judicial process and wait until a jury has been able to see, hear, and evaluate all of the evidence,” he said.

The Associated Press contirbuted to this report.