Murder scene, illustration
Murder scene, illustrationISTOCK

Six years after his arrest, Sam Woodward, a former member of the Atomwaffen Division, will face trial in a southern California courtroom over the killing of his former high school classmate Blaze Bernstein – a murder that was described as a hate crime and rocketed the neo-Nazi group to international notoriety. If convicted, Woodward faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Woodward was arrested on January 15, 2018, and charged with the murder of Blaze Bernstein, a gay Jewish student at Orange County School of the Arts and a pre-med student. Bernstein was missing for a week and searches were conducted until his body was discovered in a shallow grave on the outskirts of Borrego Park.

Woodward and Bernstein were classmates at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana. At some stage, they reconnected through social media and authorities said they had made plans to meet the night Bernstein was killed.

Bernstein’s body was found with 19 stab wounds. As part of the investigation, policemen came to Woodward’s home, where they found a knife with Bernstein’s blood on it. They also found Bernstein’s blood in Woodward’s car. After a short interrogation, Woodward was arrested on January 12th, after DNA evidence linked him to the crime.

The court case was started and postponed several times due to Woodward’s behavior in the court and concern for his mental well-being. Woodward pleaded not guilty and his next hearing has been set for September 2024.

The neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division was disbanded in 2020 after its members were involved in several murders in different countries and it has been outlawed in the UK, Australia, and Canada.