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Accused neo-Nazi describes killing gay Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein in disturbing testimony

Blaze Bernstein Samuel Woodward; Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images, Pool

Samuel Woodward still claims he’s not gay or a neo-Nazi.

The alleged neo-Nazi accused of murdering a college student home for the holidays from university displayed a selective memory when he took the stand and testified in his trial.

Samuel Woodward, now 26 and a reported member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, said he was high on marijuana when he repeatedly stabbed Bernstein with a pocketknife in a Southern California park on January 2, 2018, the Forward reported.

Bernstein, a 19-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania, was home on holiday visiting family in Lake Forest when he was killed. His body was found the following week on January 9 buried in a shallow grave in Borrego Park in the Foothill Ranch neighborhood. An autopsy revealed he had been stabbed about 20 times.

Woodward appeared unkempt and nearly catatonic at times last week as he described how the two former high school classmates matched on Tinder and then moved their discussion to Snapchat. Woodward suggested the pair hang out and Bernstein responded that he was free that evening. Woodward testified he drove to Bernstein’s house with a sleeping bag, snacks, drinks, and marijuana, and that pair then drove to Borrego Park at Bernstein’s suggestion.

His testimony was inconsistent, according to media outlets.

Woodward said he passed out after taking a few hits of marijuana and that he could not recall the specific chronology of what was said and happened when he awoke later to find Bernstein had allegedly undone his pants, had his penis in one hand while holding his cell phone in the other hand as if taking pictures of his genitalia.

When Woodward said he asked Bernstein what he was doing, the student reportedly told him to “Calm down, it’s not a big deal” and also “I got you, you f*cking hypocrite.”

Woodward said a struggle ensued for the phone and that he stabbed Bernstein repeatedly, destroying the phone as well. He explained that he feared Bernstein had sent the photo to friends, and that he feared if his father or racist friends were to learn of the picture and encounter.

He said he experienced “anger like nothing I’d ever felt in my entire life” during the attack.

Woodward’s rest of his cross-examination testimony was filled with factual inconsistencies. He denied being gay. He claimed the selfies he sent to Bernstein were found online, even though the background in some of the pics matched the tile in his bathroom. He also claimed he did not kill Bernstein because he was Jewish and gay. Woodward is also facing hate crime charges that could increase the time sentenced to prison.

Under cross-examination on Monday, Woodward admitted he had created a Grindr profile that read “All fags and fakes are in for it, get ready to die.” The rest of his testimony was filled with an inability to remember key details of the murder, the Orange County Registerreported.

He replied "I can't remember" when asked how he could stab Bernstein 14 times on the left side of the neck when he was seated next to him, and he used the same response when asked how he could also stab the gay university student five times on the right side of his next from the same seated position.

Woodward denied he was an anti-Semitic neo-Nazi despite his alleged membership in the Atomwaffen group and even when he was confronted with a picture of himself in an Atomwaffen group mask and doing the Nazi straight-arm salute.

“That is a skull mask,” Woodward said in response. “As for the salute, that is a completely different story.”

Woodward became an immediate suspect in the case. The two young men had communicated on the night of Bernstein’s disappearance, and investigators questioned Woodward after encountering him days later in Borrego Park. At the time, Woodward admitted he had been with Bernstein on the evening he went missing, saying he became angry and the pair split up after Bernstein tried to kiss him.

At the time, police noted Woodward had dirt under his fingernails and scratches on his arms. They later reportedly found in his possession a knife and sleeping bag stained with Bernstein’s blood.

Bernstein was out, and was known for his writing abilities and fondness of cooking. He was the managing editor of his school's cooking magazine, Penn Apetít.

Although not friends, Bernstein and Woodward had together attended the Orange County School for the Arts, a public charter school for artistically gifted students. Bernstein excelled as a writer at the school while Woodward was known as a loner who reportedly sought to offend and intimidate others.

Woodward identified as a member of the neo-Nazi online group Atomwaffen Division as early as 2016, according to Pro Publica. He reportedly traveled to Texas to attend a three-day training program in hand-to-hand combat, firearms, outdoor survival tactics, and more. His social media was reportedly littered with anti-LGBTQ+, racist, and anti-Semitic posts.

Bernstein and Woodward allegedly communicated online prior to meeting in person on January 2. Despite his extremist views, rumors had swirled at OCSA about Woodward’s sexual identity, with many suspecting he was gay and in the closet. Bernstein found his profile on a dating app, “superliked” Woodward’s photo, and the pair soon started chatting.

Bernstein told friends of the conversation in real-time, according to a report in 2019 from Mother Jones, coaxing Woodward into revealing his gay sexual identity.

“Oh shit, he’s about to hit on me,” Bernstein messaged a friend named Alex. “He had me promise not to tell anyone…but I have texted everyone uh oh.”

Investigators say the pair agreed to meet up later that evening with Woodward driving. Bernstein met Woodward in his cul-de-sac around 11 p.m. on January 2. He was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt and left behind his glasses and wallet leading investigators to believe the student intended only to be out a short while.

Around 11:30 p.m. Bernstein texted his friend Lily with an update during the meetup.

“The gist of it was, ‘You won’t believe what’s happening right now,’” Lily told Mother Jones.

One of the last messages he sent was a cryptic text that said he had “done something horrible” possibly just before he was killed.

Bernstein never came home but his parents were not worried until he missed a dentist appointment later that day, as he was known for his punctuality. His body was found the following week.

The cross-examination continues on Tuesday.

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