“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.”
A 21 year-old man, Samuel Woodward has been charged with murder Blaze Bernstein (pictured above), a student at the University of Pennsylvania, last January. Prosecutors have identified the murder as a hate crime because Bernstein was gay, and if a jury agrees, Woodward’s sentence will be increased to life without parole.
19 year-old medical student Bernstein went missing in January while visiting his parents in California. His body was found in a park almost a week later, buried in a shallow grave. He had been stabbed 20 times.
The night he disappeared, Bernstein had gone to the park with Woodward, who was an ex-classmate from High School. Woodward was arrested on January 12 after DNA evidence linked him to the crime.
According to a police statement, Bernstein tried to kiss Woodward, while District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas says there is substantial evidence that Bernstein was killed because he was gay.
In text conversations between Bernstein and two female friends, the murder victim thought Woodward was romantically interested in him.
“He ‘hit on me’ and ‘made me promise not to tell anyone,’” some of the messages read.
Investigators found hateful materials against a range of groups, including gay people, on Woodward’s mobile phone, laptop and social media.
“There’s a lot there that just spews hatred towards a lot of different groups of people, basically every protected group,” Rackauckas said in a statement. “So it’s hatred of many different groups of people. But the evidence of the motivation for this particular killing is we can show evidence that he killed him at least substantially, because he was gay.”
Bernstein’s parents said they believed their son had been a victim of a hate crime soon after his killer was identified.
“Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything,” they said in a statement. “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.”
“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,” they added.
Woodward is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on August 22, but a trial date has not yet been set.
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