Neo-Nazi Convicted of ‘Ceremonial Killing’


( – A Southern California jury has found Neo-Nazi Samuel Woodward guilty of the 2018 brutal murder of Blaze Bernstein, his former high school classmate, as part of a ceremonial killing to “earn prestige and recognition.”

The three-month trial dug deep into a violent killing that made international news due to Woodward’s ties to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.

19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania, disappeared on January 2, 2018, after meeting up with Woodward by dating app Tinder.

Bernstein’s body was found six days later in a park in Orange County and Woodward, the last person Bernstein was in contact with, quickly became a suspect.

Afterward, Woodward was arrested on January 12 and charged with Bernstein’s murder. A few weeks later, ProPublica revealed Woodward was a member of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group involved in other murders and bomb plots.

Woodward faced first-degree murder charges with a hate crime enhancement, as prosecutors argued the killing was motivated by hatred for LGBTQ+ people.

While the trial focused on the motive behind the murder, public defender Ken Morrison admitted his client’s guilt during opening statements in early April.

During closing arguments, Orange County deputy district attorney Jennifer Walker described Bernstein’s murder as a “ceremonial killing” meant to earn Woodward “prestige and recognition” within Atomwaffen Division. She pointed to a skull mask covered in Bernstein’s blood found in Woodward’s rental car.

Evidence showed Woodward’s extremist views and hatred for gay people, including thousands of neo-Nazi images, Atomwaffen Division propaganda, and a “hate diary” from Woodward’s phone.

In addition, Woodward’s attorney argued the killing was not premeditated but a violent outburst from a young man with untreated autism, a confused sexual identity, and a troubled home life where he faced bullying and violence.

Woodward’s parents testified about his struggles with social isolation, mental illness, and his sexuality, which Morrison claimed made him vulnerable to extremist recruitment online through apps like Kik and iFunny.

In June, Woodward testified for five days, often pausing before answering questions. He recalled picking Bernstein up after texting via Snapchat and driving to Borrego Park. They sat on a bench reminiscing and smoked a joint of strong marijuana together.

Woodward claimed the marijuana made him disoriented. He said Bernstein then touched him inappropriately and appeared to take an explicit photo. In a rage, Woodward said he grabbed a knife and stabbed Bernstein nearly 30 times.

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