Suspect in Murder of Blaze Bernstein Charged by OC Prosecutors

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Criminal charges were filed today against a 20-year- old man arrested in connection with the death of Blaze Bernstein, the University of Pennsylvania student who went missing Jan. 2 and was found dead a week later in a Lake Forest park.

Samuel Lincoln Woodward was charged with murder, along with a sentencing enhancement citing the personal use of a deadly weapon, and remained jailed without bail as he waited to be taken to court early this afternoon for an arraignment hearing, when he'll be asked to enter a plea.

Woodward was arrested Friday in connection with the death of the 19- year-old Bernstein, a pre-med student who was home on winter break when he was killed. Bernstein and Woodward were former classmates at the Orange County School for the Arts.

Woodward's mother, Michele, made her first public statement about the case Tuesday, asking for privacy.

``I would like it very much if everyone would respect our privacy and the privacy of the Bernstein family,'' she told NBC4 outside her home. ``This is a time of great suffering and we would ask that you would respect that suffering. Thank you very much.''

Bernstein's parents -- Gideon and Jeanne -- issued a statement expressing dismay at media reports about the cause of their son's death. The Orange County Register reported Monday, the day of Bernstein's funeral, that he had been stabbed more than 20 times and the killing may have been an act of rage sparked by an alleged attempt by Bernstein to kiss Woodward the night he disappeared.

``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.''

Bernstein went missing around 11 p.m. Jan. 2 at Borrego Park in Lake Forest. He was reported missing the next day by his family after he missed a dental appointment and failed to answer telephone calls and text messages. After a weeklong search, his body was found Jan. 9 on the outskirts of the park, in a shallow grave.

Sheriff's officials said Woodward drove Bernstein to the park the night of Jan. 2. He told investigators that Bernstein wandered into the park and disappeared. Woodward eventually left the park at 1 a.m., telling investigators he drove to a girlfriend's house in Tustin, but returned about 3:40 a.m. when Bernstein still had not surfaced, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register.

In subsequent interviews, however, Woodward was unable to remember the girlfriend's name or address, according to the affidavit. Woodward also had scratches and abrasions on his hands, which he attributed to a ``fight club'' in which he was involved. He also had dirt under his fingernails, with Woodward saying he had fallen into a mud puddle.

Sheriff's officials said DNA evidence tied Woodward to Bernstein's death, although they have not provided any specifics. The Register reported that the DNA was Bernstein's blood found on a sleeping bag in Woodward's possession.

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