Blaze Bernstein, right, was reportedly put out at least 20 times before he was found dead in a California park on Jan. 9. Sam Woodward, left, has been charged in his death.
California prosecutors said Thursday the University of Pennsylvania student who was stabbed to death and buried in a shallow grave in January may have been killed because of homophobia.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said prosecutors added a hate crime sentencing enhancement of murder charges against the 21-year-old Samuel Woodward.
Woodward was indicted in the death of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein after the researchers said that he was the last person to see the pre-med student in life. She said Bernstein was stabbed at least 20 times.
Woodward is said to have picked up Bernstein from his home in Lake Forest on January 2, and the pair went to the park where the body was eventually found. The two knew each other from attending the same high school.
After Bernstein’s body was found, the researchers have evaluated Woodward’s mobile phone, laptop and social media found and hateful materials against a range of groups, and substantial evidence that Bernstein was killed because of homophobia, Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas declined to specify what materials were found in Woodward’s accounts, but he said that they were racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and homophobic.
“There is a lot that there are only a syringe hatred in the direction of a lot of different groups of people, in short, all protected group,” Rackauckas said. “So it’s the hatred of many different groups of people. But the evidence of the motivation for this special kill is that we can prove that he killed him, or at least primarily, because he was gay.”
The researchers said early in the Woodward told them Bernstein kissed him on the lips, and he pushed Russell away. She said in a statement that Woodward clenched his jaw and fists as he recounted the events.
Woodward faces a maximum possible sentence of life without parole. He has had more to do with a maximum prison term of 26 years to life in prison if he were convicted. Under California law, officers of justice, for the death penalty when a victim is killed because of race, religion or nationality, but not sexual orientation.
He is being held on $ 5 million bail, and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 22.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.