A high school classmate was charged Wednesday with the murder of a University of Pennsylvania student, who was found with nearly two dozen stab wounds and buried in a shallow grave at a California park last week.
The murder charge against Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, also included a so-called enhancement which would allow prosecutors to seek more jail time for Woodward if he is convicted. Woodward is accused of stabbing Blaze Bernstein, 19, with a knife while the pre-med student was home on winter break visiting his parents in Lake Forest.
Woodward faces up to 26 years in prison if convicted. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus told reporters Wednesday that investigators are looking for evidence that would support making the legal case a hate crime.
Woodward appeared in court for arraignment but it was postponed to Feb. 2 and no plea was entered. In the meantime he'll remain jailed without bail.
Woodward was arrested days after Bernstein’s body was found in Borrego Park, where he was last seen. Woodward told investigators when he was brought in for questioning that Bernstein, who he knew from high school, sexually pursued him and kissed him on the lips, prompting Woodward to shove the UPenn sophomore away, a warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register stated.
The 20-year-old had picked up Bernstein on Jan. 2 and drove him to several places before the pair ended up at the park.
While Woodward was recounting the night, he appeared nervous, clenched his jaw and fists at one point, officials said.
“He wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him,” the affidavit said.
Woodward also had dirt under his nails, which he blamed on falling in a mud puddle during a “fight club” match.
Authorities have not released a motive in the killing. A weapon was also not recovered.
Woodward was arrested after investigators tracked Bernstein’s social media account and found that he communicated with the Ivy League student on Snapchat. They also uncovered text messages to two female friends about Woodward. Bernstein said in a June text that Woodward was about to “hit on” him, adding: “He made me promise not to tell anyone…but I have texted every one…uh oh.”
DNA evidence linking Woodward to Bernstein’s death was also found, authorities said.
The UPenn student’s parents, Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, have said their son’s death may have been a hate crime.
"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 statement from the parents said.
Fox News' Nicole Darrah and The Associated Press contributed to this report.