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Judge orders no bail for Newport man accused of murdering Blaze Bernstein in hate crime

Judge orders no bail for Newport man accused of murdering Blaze Bernstein in hate crime
Samuel Woodward of Newport Beach leaves a court hearing Aug. 22. He is charged with murdering Blaze Bernstein in January. (File Photo)

Samuel Woodward, the Newport Beach man charged with murder with a hate-crime allegation in the stabbing death of former high school classmate Blaze Bernstein, will be held without bail while awaiting trial.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger removed bail for Woodward, 21, in an arraignment hearing Friday. It had been set at $5 million.

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Woodward appeared in court in a dark blue suit with his light brown hair closely cropped.

His defense attorney, Robert Kohler, argued that for bail to be denied, there should clear evidence that Woodward’s release on bail would result in great bodily injury to someone on the outside. Kohler said there is “no evidence whatsoever” of that.

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He asked the judge to set bail at $1 million, the level suggested in the bail schedule, he said.

But Menninger said, “I do believe it would be a danger to others in the community, based on preliminary hearing transcripts.”

Kohler, of the Orange County public defender’s office, further argued that bail shouldn’t be changed from $5 million, noting that his client hasn’t been able to pay it.

“Mr. Woodward can’t make $5 million bail; therefore … raising bail to no bail only negatively impacts my ability to interact with my client,” Kohler said.

The Orange County district attorney’s office has filed a murder charge and sentencing enhancement allegations of a hate crime and personal use of a deadly weapon.

The hate-crime allegation was added in August to the January murder charge. Prosecutors believe Woodward killed Bernstein, 19, because Bernstein was gay.

The enhancement means that if Woodward is convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of life in state prison without parole. Without it, he would have faced a maximum sentence of 26 years to life.

Woodward has pleaded not guilty to murder and denied the enhancements, including the hate crime.

Prosecutors have cited DNA evidence that they say links Woodward to the slaying, along with a blood-spotted knife found in his bedroom, several anti-gay messages and images on his cellphone and material related to a neo-Nazi organization.

Woodward is accused of stabbing Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student, multiple times in early January and burying his body in a shallow grave near Borrego Park in Lake Forest, where Bernstein lived, the district attorney’s office said.

The two knew each other from attending Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana.

Bernstein’s family reported him missing Jan. 3, and authorities discovered his body Jan. 9. Woodward was arrested Jan. 12 at his home in Newport Beach.

Woodward is scheduled to return to court Jan. 25.

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