Newport Beach man pleads not guilty in killing of gay student

Samuel Woodward talks to his attorney Edward Munoz during a court hearing at the Harbor Justice Cent
Samuel Woodward talks to his attorney, Edward Munoz, during a court hearing. Woodward is charged with the murder of University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein.
(Paul Bersebach / Associated Press)

A Southern California man pleaded not guilty on Friday to the murder of a gay University of Pennsylvania student in a hate crime.

Samuel Woodward, a 21-year-old from Newport Beach, entered the plea during a hearing in Orange County Superior Court.

Bail was previously set at $5 million, but Judge Kimberly Menninger ordered Woodward held without bail at prosecutors’ request, saying she believed he would be a danger to the community if he were released.

Woodward is charged in the January stabbing death of college sophomore Blaze Bernstein, who was home visiting his family on winter break.


Bernstein, who was gay and Jewish, went missing after he went out with Woodward to a park in Lake Forest, Calif. His body was found days later buried at the park in a shallow grave.

Prosecutors have said DNA evidence links Woodward to the crime and his cellphone contained troves of anti-gay, anti-Semitic and white hate group materials.

Woodward picked up Bernstein from his parents’ home and stabbed him nearly 20 times in the face and neck, authorities have said.

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


Get our Essential California newsletter