In Blaze Bernstein trial, defense says Samuel Woodward's actions not motivated by hate

David González Image
Tuesday, July 2, 2024
In Blaze Bernstein trial, defense denies Woodward motivated by hate
Samuel Woodward defense team has already conceded his involvement in Bernstein's death but denies the act was motivated by hate.

Closing arguments in Samuel Woodward's trial for the murder of Blaze Bernstein are focusing not on whether he killed his former classmate - but why he did.

Woodward's defense team has already conceded their client's responsibility for Bernstein's death in January 2018 but has sought to counter prosecutors' claims that it was a premeditated act motivated by hatred for the victim being Jewish and gay.

Instead, defense attorney Ken Morrison described the killing as a spontaneous act.

"As I told you during the opening remarks this case is going to be not about the who but about the why," Morrison said during defense closing arguments on Monday.

Morrison said the now 26-year-old Woodward did not kill his former Orange County School of the Arts classmate because he was gay.

"You heard me right out of the gate tell you that my client was guilty," Morrison said. "Guilty of a serious, violent homicide. But as you also know there are many different kinds of homicide."

During his trial Woodward testified picking up Bernstein from his home and driving to Borrego Park in Lake Forest.

He recounted smoking marijuana on the night of Jan. 2, 2018 and going into a state of terror after he discovered Bernstein may have been recording him while touching him inappropriately.

Morrison argued Woodward acted rashly and under intense emotion which obscured his judgment when he stabbed Bernstein - then 19 years old - 28 times.

"There would be no justification, no legal self-defense; just the unlawful killing of another unarmed young person who did not deserve to die. Period," he said.

Last week senior deputy district attorney Jennifer Walker told jurors they have all the facts to convict Woodward of first-degree murder, including a hate crime enhancement, based off Woodward's own testimony and DNA evidence.

Walker said Woodward's hatred of gays and his affiliation to Attomwaffen, a far-right neo-Nazi group, led him to plan the murder.

"He already had his bags, he was already talking to Atomwaffen people about going somewhere else and he thought he was going to get away with it. It's only by the grace of God that rain happened and they found his body," Walker said.

The defense wants the jury to consider a lesser crime including voluntary manslaughter.

"You need to try to get into Samuel Woodward's mind at the time and at the moment that he stabbed Blaze Bernstein," Morrison said.

Closing arguments are expected to continue on Tuesday.

Walker will get one final rebuttal before the case is handed over to the jury to deliberate. If convicted, Woodward could face a sentence up to life in prison.

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