Hate crime charges not ruled out in college student’s slaying: Prosecutors

Prosecutors haven’t ruled out hate crime charges in the fatal stabbing of University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Wednesday.

Bernstein, 19, who was gay, was at home in Southern California for winter break when he went missing on Jan. 2. After an extensive search, his body was found on Jan. 9 in the brush surrounding Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said.

“We are continuing to investigate, looking through all matters of the communication,” he said at a news conference. “We have an obligation to file charges only if there’s sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. A hate crime of special circumstance allegation requires that level of proof … if and when we find it, we will amend the charges.”

Rackauckas later added in an interview with ABC News, “We would need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Sam Woodward did the killing because of a group that the victim might have belonged to. … We’d have to show that the reason for the murder was substantially for the reason that he was gay,” he said.

The Bernsteins said in a statement earlier this week, “Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything. We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community. There is still much discovery to be done and if it is determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of hate crime.”

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