The suspect in the killing of University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein returned to the crime scene while under surveillance several days after the alleged murder, California authorities announced at a Wednesday press conference.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas also said that the suspect, Samuel Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, was seen cleaning his car several days after Blaze’s killing.
Woodward has been charged with one felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement of the personal use of a knife, Rackauckas said.
He faces a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in state prison if convicted.
While authorities have not yet said how Blaze, 19, was killed, during the press conference Rackauckas revealed for the first time that the Ivy League student “was stabbed.” The Orange County Register previously released details of a search warrant affidavit obtained before it was sealed revealing that Blaze was stabbed more than 20 times.
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Woodward is being held in the Orange County jail and is scheduled for a bail hearing Wednesday afternoon. Rackauckas said the scheduled bail amount is $1 million — he said authorities “think [it] is not enough” — and said his office will try to raise it substantially.
He said investigators are also still trying to determine a motive — and why Woodward picked up Blaze at his home the night of Jan. 2.
“We need evidence beyond reasonable doubt before we can talk about why this happened,” Rackauckas said.
He pointed out that the two knew each other from high school at the Orange County School of the Arts, saying, “we do not have any evidence that they were friends in high school. That’s as much as I can say.”
He said he couldn’t comment on the relationship they had after high school but did say that authorities are looking into conversations on Snapchat and elsewhere that they had leading up to the killing.
He said that Blaze’s family “is very distraught” and that they are taking an “active role” in the investigation.
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The DA wouldn’t comment on details revealed in the affidavit obtained by the Register.
According to the affidavit, on Jan. 2, the night Blaze went missing, Woodward told investigators that the teen kissed him on the lips while they sat in Woodward’s car in the parking lot outside a Hobby Lobby in Lake Forest.
Woodward allegedly told investigators that “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him,” the affidavit states.
As for whether Woodward is being charged with a hate crime, the district attorney said, “We’re looking for that evidence and if and when we find it, we will amend the charges.”
DNA evidence allegedly ties Woodward to the murder, Rackauckas said.
Woodward was arrested on Jan. 12 on suspicion of homicide, nine days after Blake went missing while he was home on winter break. Blaze’s body was found on Jan. 9 in a shallow grave in the brush around the perimeter of the park.