SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California man charged with the murder of a University of Pennsylvania student carried out the killing because the victim was gay, prosecutors said Thursday.
A hate crime sentencing enhancement was being added to a murder charge against 21-year-old Samuel Woodward for the death of 19-year-old sophomore Blaze Bernstein, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
Since Bernstein's body was found in January at a park near his parents' Lake Forest, California, home, investigators reviewed Woodward's cellphone, laptop and social media and found hateful materials against a range of groups and substantial evidence Bernstein was killed because he was gay, Rackauckas said.
"We have no room for this kind of hate in our society," Rackauckas told reporters.
Woodward, who is from the upscale seaside city of Newport Beach, has pleaded not guilty to the killing. He is being held on $5 million bail and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 22.
With the change, Woodward faces a maximum potential sentence of life without parole. He previously faced a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in prison if he were convicted.
A message was left for Woodward's attorney.
Bernstein went missing in January while visiting his parents in the tight-knit Lake Forest community of Foothill Ranch, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles. His body was found in the park nearly a week later buried in a shallow grave.
Bernstein went to the park with Woodward the night he disappeared, authorities said. The two had attended the same high school in Orange County.