Newport Beach man facing murder, hate crime charge in stabbing of Blaze Bernstein found competent for trial

 Samuel Lincoln Woodward speaks with his attorney during his 2018 arraignment.
Samuel Lincoln Woodward speaks with his attorney during his 2018 arraignment on murder charges in the death of Blaze Bernstein in Santa Ana. A judge on Friday found Woodward competent to stand trial.
(Los Angeles Times)

A judge on Friday found a Newport Beach man accused of killing a former classmate who gave him an unwanted kiss and then burying him in Foothill Ranch in 2018 competent to stand trial.

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 25, faces one count of murder with sentencing enhancements alleging the use of a deadly weapon and a hate crime. Prosecutors say he stabbed Blaze Bernstein to death and hid his body in a shallow grave in Borrego Park.

A trial date had been set, but the matter was put on hold on July 15, after the attorney who was representing Woodward raised questions about his capacity to face the accusations against him. Judge Julian Bailey heard from psychologists appointed by both the public defender’s and the district attorney’s offices on Friday and found that he was fit to be tried.


Prosecutors claim Woodward killed Bernstein in January 2018, at least in part, because the victim was gay. The defendant said they were in his car when Bernstein kissed him on the lips, and he responded by pushing him away.

Then-19-year-old Bernstein was a University of Pennsylvania student visiting home for winter break when his parents reported him missing on Jan. 3. He was found six days later in Borrego Park after a rainstorm washed away some of the dirt he was underneath.

Bernstein was described by one of his former college advisors, Jamie-Lee Josselyn, as a passionate cook with a deadpan sense of humor who loved LaCroix seltzer water so much he considered having a can tattooed onto his thigh. More than 500 people attended a memorial held for him at University Synagogue in Irvine four years ago.

Blaze Bernstein posing in 2017 for Penn Appétit’s Whisk cookbook, which was later dedicated to him.
(Courtesy of Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Bernstein)

DNA evidence found at the park and in Woodward’s car led detectives to name him as a suspect.

An attorney defending Woodward in 2018 said he was confused about his sexual identity. He had also been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that may have had an impact on his actions.

The defendant was also allegedly a member of the neo-Nazi organization, Atomwaffen Division, Pro Publica reported. The group celebrated the death of Bernstein, a Jewish man, in confidential chat logs, according to the nonprofit newsroom.

Woodward has pleaded not guilty to the charge and enhancements filed against him. He remained in custody at the Theo Lacy Jail as of Friday morning, Orange County Sheriff’s officials said. His next scheduled court appearance will be in January.

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