A 21-year-old man will stand trial for murdering a gay Jewish student in a hate crime after prosecutors told the court his phone contained more than 100 examples of anti-gay and antisemitic content.
Blaze Bernstein was stabbed more than 20 times in the face and neck in January after meeting up with defendant Samuel Woodward in a Californian park, before his body was left in a shallow grave in the same park.
Woodward has pleaded not guilty, according to Associated Press.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Craig Goldsmith yesterday (September 4) told Orange County Superior Court that Woodward’s mobile had a hoard of materials related to Nazi group Atomwaffen.
The group, whose insignia Goldsmith said was featured in Woodward’s phone background, embraces a “Third Reich ideology” towards gay people and other minorities. Many Atomwaffen members celebrated Bernstein’s killing.
One propaganda poster produced by the group encourages LGBT people to take their own lives, saying: “Follow your fellow faggots. 30 percent of suicides are LGBT related.”
Goldsmith said that as well as masses of hateful content, the phone also contained a comment from Woodward about posing as someone who was “gay curious” in order to trick men.
Woodward wrote: “That’s what they deserve,” with an anti-gay slur attached.
Goldsmith also told the court that Woodward wrote to himself about scaring gay men on Grindr by sending them photos of other gay men being killed, which he said had led one person to tell him they would call the FBI.
Woodward wrote: “They think they are going to get hate crimed,” according to the prosecutor.
Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student who was visiting his parents in California for winter break during sophomore year, had texted a friend a photo of Woodward six months previously, Goldsmith said.
He wrote that he and the man now charged with his murder had run into each other, and that he hoped they would have hook up, saying that it would be “legendary” to have sex with his ex-schoolmate.
Prosecutors said that on the day of Bernstein’s death, the pair connected on Snapchat and Woodward picked him up from his home and they drove to the park.
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According to court documents, Woodward told investigators that he had become disgusted and angry after Bernstein kissed him on the lips in his car.
He said he pushed the victim back, but denied taking any further violent actions.
Forensic scientist Corrie Maggay testified that blood stains from the blade of a knife found in Woodward’s bedroom, on the visor of his car and under his watch matched Bernstein’s genetic material.
She said that the chances of the blood belonging to someone else were one-in-a-trillion.
Defence lawyer Edward Munoz did not call any witnesses, instead telling the court that Woodward had said he was autistic, socially awkward and sexually confused.
He also argued that his client could not have committed a hate crime because the offensive materials which Woodward kept on his mobile – including an email he sent himself called “Sam’s Diary of Hate” – were not shared with anyone.
After the hearing, Munoz said: “I think in a hate crime instance you have to have an outward manifestation of your loathing to the world.”
Woodward could face a sentence of up to life in prison with no parole if convicted on the first-degree murder and hate crime charges.
He is due back in court on September 17.