Lincoln Woodward, wearing shackles and orange garbs, appeared briefly in court for the first time on Wednesday. His arraignment was postponed until Feb. 2, and he was ordered to remain jailed without bail.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas held a press conference earlier in the day to speak about the charges filed against the 20-year-old.
Woodward, of Newport Beach, was charged with one count of felony murder with a sentencing enhancement of the personal use of a knife, according to the DA's office.
He faces a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Rackauckas did not say much about the ongoing investigation, though he did confirm that Bernstein had been stabbed.
The district attorney also said Woodward visited the crime scene days after the murder, and that Bernstein's DNA was found "on property that was in the control of" Woodward. Rackauckas alleged that Woodward cleaned up his vehicle in an effort to remove DNA evidence.
The exact time and place of the killing remains unclear.
Through surveillance and interviews, investigators said they noticed cuts on Woodward's hands and dirt under his fingernails.
Woodward was arrested Friday after DNA evidence allegedly linked him to the crime.
Rackauckas also said his office is not ruling out the possibility that the slaying may have been a hate crime, adding that it will be a while until a motive is found.
"A hate crime or a special circumstance allegation requires that level of proof, so we're looking for that evidence, and if and when we find it, we will amend the charges and file that," Rackauckas said.
According to a search warrant affidavit, Woodward told detectives Bernstein had tried to kiss him, and he pushed him away, then used a gay slur to describe his reaction to detectives.
In a statement, Bernstein's parents said, "If this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear who have been victims of hate crime."
Bernstein, 19, was visiting his parents on winter break from University of Pennsylvania when he went to a park with Woodward on Jan. 2. A week later, Bernstein's body was found in a shallow grave in Borrego Park in Lake Forest.
Woodward was arrested last Friday in connection with Bernstein's death.
Bernstein and Woodward knew each other from high school.
Bernstein's funeral was held Monday. He was remembered as a talented writer and passionate chef.