A man who is accused of stabbing his former high school classmate to death and burying him in a shallow grave denied a hate crime enhancement in court Wednesday.
Samuel Woodward is facing charges of murder in the death of Blaze Bernstein, 19. However, prosecutors added a hate crime enhancement to the charges earlier this month, saying they believe Woodward killed Bernstein because he was gay, according to the Orange County Register.
They pointed to texts and images found on Woodward's phone and computer that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaucka described as "graphic and chilling" and "spewing hate" when justifying the enhancement.
During a brief hearing on Wednesday, Woodward's attorney Edward Munoz denied any anti-gay bias.
He later told reporters after the hearing that his client had a mental disorder and suffered from Asperger's syndrome. He also said Woodward had been "very confused" about his sexual identity and overall identity at the time of Bernstein's murder, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Prosecutors say Bernstein was killed while home from college on winter break. They say Woodward picked up Bernstein from his parent's home around 11 p.m. on the night of Jan. 2 so they could catch up.
The pair had attended the same high school, the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, the Orange County Register reported.
Woodward drove to Borrego Park and later told detectives that Bernstein tried to kiss him while the two were sitting in the car, court documents said.
After Woodward pushed Bernstein away, Woodward told police Bernstein got out of the car and walked toward the park alone.
His body was later found buried in a shallow grave in the park, according to the LA Times.
Woodward was arrested after investigators discovered DNA evidence at both the park and in Woodward's car that appeared to link him to the crime.
According to the Orange County Register, Woodward had been a member of an armed, fascist organization known as Atomwaffen Division before his arrest.
His attorney hasn't confirmed his participation in the group but did tell reporters Wednesday that he had tried to connect with others in multiple ways, the paper reported.
With the addition of the hate crime enhancement, Woodward could now face life in prison without parole if he's convicted.
A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for Sept. 4, according to the LA Times.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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