Man convicted of murdering gay classmate he met on Tinder

Sam Woodward standing trial in Orange County court.

A California man has been convicted of the murder of a gay university student he met on the dating app Tinder. 

Samuel Woodward, 26, was arrested in 2018 and on Wednesday (3 July) a jury found him guilty of the first-degree murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein. He was also convicted on hate-crime charges and faces life in prison without the chance of parole.

The court heard that Woodward agreed to hook up with the Jewish teenager and took him to a park in Lake Forest, where he stabbed him 20 times before burying the body in a shallow grave. The pair had met on Tinder with Woodward previously admitting that he made the first move. 

Both Woodward and Bernstein were students at the Orange County School of the Arts. Prior to that, Bernstein had a short stint as a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. 

A photo of murdered gay Jewish student Blaze Bernstein pictured standing in front of frozen lake
Blaze Bernstein was murdered in 2018. (Facebook)

Woodward had dropped out of college and gone to Texas, where he connected with neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, before moving to his parent’s home in California, The Independent reported.

Prosecutors previously said that as a member of the group, Woodward repeatedly targeted gay men online by matching with them on social dating apps before breaking off contact.

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Samuel Woodward was arrested in 2018. (Allen J. Schaben/Getty)

When Woodward’s family home in Newport Beach was searched, police discovered that he and Bernstein had been chatting on social media for months. They reportedly found a bloodied folding knife and a black Atomwaffen mask with traces of blood on it.

The defence did not contest the killing but said it was not the result of hate. They argued that a long-undiagnosed autism spectrum condition meant Woodward had challenges in relationships with others and was confused by his own sexuality, especially growing up in an environment where his father openly criticised homosexuality.

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