The lawyer of a California man who denies killing a gay Jewish teenager, says the suspect may have fallen in with an anti-gay and anti-Jewish crowd because he struggled with his own identity.
Samuel Woodward, 21, faces life in prison without parole if he’s found guilty of hate crime in addition to the first-degree murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, but on the day of a court hearing Wednesday, Edward Munoz asked people to consider that he has a ‘serious mental disorder’.
Speaking about autism spectrum disorder, Woodward’s representative claimed that his association with a Nazi group that has been linked to five murders in a year, was due to living with Asperger syndrome among other things.
Samuel Woodward, 21, attended a court hearing at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach, California on Wednesday. He is charged with the murder of Blaze Bernstein
Woodward’s attorney Edward Munoz says his client has a ‘serious mental disorder’
Munoz added that Woodward struggled with his sexuality and has Asperger syndrome
Those affected can have difficulty with social interactions but Munoz says his client had even less of a chance because of his appearance, telling Buzzfeed News: ‘He is a blonde, blue-eyed young man. There’s only going to be certain clubs he’s going to be allowed into.’
Munoz didn’t mention the neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, Woodward had previously been pictured with in Texas, a ProPublica reporter shared online in January.
Woodward used to dye his hair black but appeared with his natural hue showing as he appeared at the hearing, which ended up being postponed while the defense reviews evidence from the accused’s mobile phone records.
Munoz said that his blond hair and blue eyes meant he could only fit into certain groups
The murder of gay UPenn sophomore Blaze Bernstein (left) will be treated as a hate crime
Munoz added that the defendant, who told police that his former high school classmate, Woodward, tried to kiss him, ‘has a lot of issues, I think, around sexual orientation’.
Materials on his social media and computer also pinpointed him as someone prosecutors found to be racist, misogynistic and anti-government.
The University of Pennsylvania sophomore’s body was discovered buried in a shallow grave in Lake Forest park after being stabbed 20 times in January.
Blaze, 19, was murdered in early January, after meeting up with a former high school classmate. His body was found, stabbed 20 times and buried in a shallow grave
Woodward is linked to Atomwaffen Division which has been linked to five murders in a year
Blaze’s parents Jeanne Bernstein (right) and her husband Gideon (center) were not in court Wednesday but have ask people to practice kindness in their son’s memory
His parents, Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein, were not in court but have urged people to do acts of kindness to remember their son who is described as a ‘brilliant writer and scientist’.
Newport Beach resident, Woodward previously faced 26 years to life in prison because under California law, prosecutors can only seek the death penalty when a victim is killed because of race, religion or nationality.
Since Bernstein’s death, a state bill has been proposed to change that to include sexual orientation.