SANTA ANA — A 20-year-old Newport Beach man pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon to allegedly killing a former high school classmate, college student Blaze Bernstein, whose body was found at a Lake Forest park last month.
Samuel Lincoln Woodward is accused of fatally stabbing Bernstein, 19, the night of Jan. 2. His body was found one week later in a shallow grave at Borrego Park in Lake Forest.
Woodward had been in jail without bail. On Friday, the judge put his bail at $5 million, five times higher than the scheduled bail amount for the crime.
He is due back in court on March 2.
Woodward and Bernstein were classmates at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Anat. Bernstein was home from college on winter break when he died.
According to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Woodward picked up Bernstein from his parents’ Lake Forest home about 11 p.m. Jan. 2, and drove him to a shopping center on Portola Parkway in Foothill Ranch. Later, the two went to Borrego Park in Lake Forest, he said.
At some point, Woodward stabbed Bernstein multiple times, then buried the body in a dirt perimeter at the park, Rackauckas alleged.
Rackauckas declined to discuss a possible motive for the killing, but a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register suggested that Bernstein may have tried to kiss Woodward, who responded by killing him in an act of rage.
The district attorney conceded that the case remained under investigation, and said prosecutors were reviewing whether the killing could be considered a hate crime. Officials, sparked by the case, have proposed new legislation against hate crimes.
Bernstein’s parents — Gideon and Jeanne — issued a statement last month noting the possibility the killing may have been a hate crime.
“Our son was a beautiful, gentle soul who we loved more than anything,” the Bernsteins said. “We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community. There is still much discovery to be done and if it is determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of hate crime.”
In late January, ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news site, reported that three people who knew Woodward said he was part of the Atomwaffen Division, an armed fascist organization that aims to overthrow the government through guerrilla tactics and terrorism.
Atomwaffen Division has been linked to four other murders and a bomb plot over the past eight months, according to ProPublica.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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