SANTA ANA (CBSLA/AP) — A Newport Beach man charged in the murder of a gay former classmate in a Lake Forest park pleaded not guilty.
Samuel Woodward, 20, is accused of of fatally stabbing 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein in early January.
A March 2 date was set for a pretrial hearing. His bail was set at $5 million.
Authorities say Samuel Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach killed 19-year-old sophomore Blaze Bernstein and buried his body in a shallow grave at a neighborhood park not far from the Bernstein family’s home in Lake Forest.
Bernstein, who grew up in Orange County and was visiting his family on winter break, was missing for a week after going out with Woodward the night of Jan. 2, according to authorities. Authorities searched for him with help from drone pilots and found his body at the park after rain partially exposed it.
Woodward is charged with murder and an enhancement for use of a knife. He is being held without bail.
Bernstein was gay and Jewish and authorities were investigating the possibility of a hate crime. But the case exposed a hole in the penal code, specifically the omission of sexual orientation and gender as a protected class, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
“As we strive to protect all members of society, it’s a glaring omission that sexual orientation is not a protected class of victims under the special circumstances law in California. Interestingly, they are protected members in other penal code sections — just not the special circumstance section,” he said at a news conference.
As a result, Rackacukas said he would be working with State Senator Janet Nguyen to introduce legislation in Sacramento to expand the existing language of the law.
Authorities say the two men both attended the Orange County School of the Arts but they did not know if they were friends at the time.
According to a court filing obtained by the Orange County Register, Woodward told investigators that he became angry after Bernstein kissed him the night they went to the park.
At college, Bernstein was studying psychology and was recently chosen to edit a campus culinary magazine.
Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil for Bernstein and his funeral.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)