It has been five long years of seeking justice since gay University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein was murdered.
His family hopes a judge will move the case against the teen’s accused killer forward. The suspect is scheduled to appear for a pre-trial hearing in a California court Friday, according to the news site Forward.
Samuel Woodward, now 25, is accused of killing 19-year-old sophomore Blaze Bernstein in 2018 because he was gay, prosecutors say. Bernstein was also Jewish.
Several delays in the Orange County Superior Court trial have resulted from Woodward changing his legal representation multiple times and the original prosecutor being appointed as a judge.
Woodward was active in the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen at the time of the murder.
He was charged and subject to a hate crimes enhancement for allegedly stabbing his former high school classmate more than 20 times. He faces a maximum sentence of life without parole if convicted, as compared to 26 years to life maximum without the hate crimes component.
Bernstein, a pre-med student, reconnected with his Orange County School of the Arts classmates through Snapchat. Woodward, of Newport Beach, Calif., picked up the queer teen from his parents’ house in the nearby town of Lake Forest when Bernstein was home for winter break in January 2018. Then the two went to Borrego Park in Lake Forest.
Bernstein may have leaned in for a kiss, according to a police search warrant.
Bernstein was found buried in a shallow grave at a park near his parents’ home.
A ProPublica investigation found that Woodward’s neo-Nazi group sent 250,000 messages on the chat service Discord celebrating Bernstein’s murder after Woodward pleaded not guilty.
Bernstein’s father, Gideon Bernstein, said in a news conference at the time that “we suffer an added layer of pain from learning he was likely killed because of who he was.”
Bernstein’s mother, Jeanne Pepper, told Forward earlier this month that she was upset with the amount of delay and lack of justice her family has received. She worries that nothing has come of her son’s death.
“The children that were 13 years old when this happened to Blaze are 18 now — they’re legal adults,” Pepper told the outlet. “Are they ready to live in a world full of violence and hate? Have we done anything in the last five years to instill a sense of humanity in people? I don’t think so.”