Sun. May 26th, 2024
alert-–-mom-of-gay-jewish-teen,-19-murdered-by-‘closeted’-neo-nazi-schoolfriend-tells-court-she-gave-howl-of-anguish-on-realizing-he-was-missing-–-as-parents-detail-how-they-immediately-called-‘killer’-and-grew-suspiciousAlert – Mom of gay Jewish teen, 19 murdered by ‘closeted’ Neo-Nazi schoolfriend tells court she gave howl of anguish on realizing he was missing – as parents detail how they immediately called ‘killer’ and grew suspicious

The mother of the Jewish teen who was allegedly murdered in Southern California by his closeted neo-Nazi ex-classmate took the stand Thursday, to recall the moment she discovered her son was missing.

Jeanne Pepper, the mom of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, offered the account to jurors at the Santa Ana court where 26-year-old Samuel Woodward is being tried.

He’s accused of stabbing Bernstein to death because he was gay, sparking a search that ended a week later with the young man’s body being found in a makeshift grave.

Joined by her husband Gideon, Pepper spoke about her son’s disappearance the day of January 2, 2018, and how the family had gathered for a belated ‘Thanksgiving’ meal to make up for the gathering their son had missed while off at college.

Blaze, sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, served as the chef, his mother, recalled, before the boy’s dad too testified.

The father and mother of Blaze Bernstein (center), the Jewish teen who was allegedly murdered in Southern California by his closeted neo-Nazi ex-classmate in 2018, took the stand Thursday to recall the moment they realized their son was missing.

The father and mother of Blaze Bernstein (center), the Jewish teen who was allegedly murdered in Southern California by his closeted neo-Nazi ex-classmate in 2018, took the stand Thursday to recall the moment they realized their son was missing. 

Both offered the accounts to jurors at the Santa Ana court where 26-year-old Samuel Woodward (pictured)is being tried. Woodward, 26, is charged with murdering Blaze Bernstein, 19, in Southern California in January 2018

Both offered the accounts to jurors at the Santa Ana court where 26-year-old Samuel Woodward (pictured)is being tried. Woodward, 26, is charged with murdering Blaze Bernstein, 19, in Southern California in January 2018

‘He cooked an amazing dinner for the family, like a feast,’ Pepper remembered, recalling how Bernstein was staying at the family’s Lake Forest home while on winter break. 

‘I was really blown away.’

Simultaneously, Woodward dropped out of the college to spend time in Texas with a neo-Nazi group – returning to live at his family’s home in Newport Beach 30 minutes away.     

Back in Lake Forest, Bernstein was still awake when his parents went to sleep, his mother recalled – but later that night, he secretly met up with Woodward for a date.

‘He normally would tell us if he was going out,’ Pepper testified, five years after he son became acquainted with his old classmate on Tinder.

 ‘But he didn’t have to tell us. He was over 18. It was a courtesy,’ she continued, as prosecutors allege Woodward went on to kill her son in a hate crime at nearby Borrego Park.

‘We didn’t have any rules about that, unfortunately.’

She recalled how both she and Bernstein’s father were thus not concerned when they didn’t see their son the following morning, assuming he was sleeping in. 

Testimony from the man's father recalled how he rushed home from work after receiving a frantic phone call from his spouse

Testimony from the man’s father recalled how he rushed home from work after receiving a frantic phone call from his spouse 

But that changed when Bernstein didn’t respond to phone calls and texts, and failed to show at dentist’s appointment in Huntington Beach. 

Following the missed appointment, Pepper recalled how she called her housekeeper to ask if she had seen Blaze during her visit to the home earlier in the day. 

‘I said “Did you see Blaze this morning?”‘ she told the court, three days after attorneys said the state will argue Woodward killed Bernstein because he was gay, not because he was Jewish.

‘She said, “He wasn’t in his room, the bed was made when I went in there this morning,” Pepper continued.

‘I screamed at the top of my lungs when I heard that.’

Testimony from Bernstein’s father filled in the rest, describing how he rushed home from work after receiving a frantic phone call from his spouse.

‘It was the beginning of hell,’ Gideon recalled.

The parents proceeded to perform a sweep of their son’s room, spotting items they said he would normally always have on his person.

‘His car keys were there, His glasses were on his desk, his wallet was there,’ Gideon said, growing visibly emotional at several points.

‘His suitcase was opened up on the floor with all his clothes folded neatly, ready for him to fly back to school in a few days,’ he added.

Both testified how they reached out to friends for advice. They called the cops, after which a deputy briefly stopped by.

However, the parents said he discouraged them from immediately reporting him missing. 

‘The defining moment was when someone asked if we had checked any of his social media,’ the father recalled – detailing Snapchat messages they found from the night before from Woodward, who they said they did not know and weren’t aware was an old classmate.

The father said of the Snapchat messages: ‘It was some questions [to] Blaze [saying] “where did you go?”, some expletives, and… a narrative that went on for a bunch of unanswered messages.’

The parents both said they subsequently reached out to Woodward via their son’s Snapchat, after which the aspiring Neo-Nazi spoke to them by phone.

The father put the call on speaker while his daughter recorded on another phone – footage that was shown for the first time in court on Thursday, allowing jurors to hear a now-silent Woodward speak at length.

'The defining moment was when someone asked if we had checked any of his social media,' the father recalled - detailing Snapchat messages they found from the night before from Woodward, who they said they did not know and weren't aware was an old classmate. Pictured: Woodward with a markedly different appearance at a court hearing in January 2018

‘The defining moment was when someone asked if we had checked any of his social media,’ the father recalled – detailing Snapchat messages they found from the night before from Woodward, who they said they did not know and weren’t aware was an old classmate. Pictured: Woodward with a markedly different appearance at a court hearing in January 2018

In an ensuing investigation, forensic officials tested blood from a knife found in Woodward’s room, and found that it matched DNA taken from Bernstein. A photo of it is seen here from Tuesday, the first day of proceedings

In an ensuing investigation, forensic officials tested blood from a knife found in Woodward’s room, and found that it matched DNA taken from Bernstein. A photo of it is seen here from Tuesday, the first day of proceedings 

‘We were trying to solve a mystery of what happened to Blaze, and I thought it was important to document every part of it until we found out who did it,’ the dad said of the rationale behind recording the call.

During the call, Woodward could be heard telling the couple how Blaze had told him he was meeting another person at Borrego Park, but then walked away from his car to never return.

He reportedly insisted to the two: ‘I’m sorry, I thought Blaze was just pulling a prank on me or some sh*t like that.

‘I’m scared now,’ he added at the time.

The parents went on to grill Woodward, urging him to provide as many details as he can. 

He maintained he did not know the third party he said Woodward had left to meet – an account that prosecutors have since slammed as phony.

‘You are the first real clue to the puzzle here,’ Gideon was heard saying as he begged Woodward for help.

‘I want to find Blaze as much as you do,’ Woodward at one point responded, allegedly playing dumb.

Woodward, who looked disheveled and disturbed for his first day in court Tuesday, has cycled through a handful of defense attorneys in the six years since his arrest

Woodward, who looked disheveled and disturbed for his first day in court Tuesday, has cycled through a handful of defense attorneys in the six years since his arrest

Orange County Deputy Sheriffs escort Samuel Lincoln Woodward into Orange County Superior Court for Opening Statements of his murder trial

Orange County Deputy Sheriffs escort Samuel Lincoln Woodward into Orange County Superior Court for Opening Statements of his murder trial

Judge Kimberly Menninger is presiding. In February, Woodward threw a cup of water at her, which led to the process of jury selection beginning over again

Judge Kimberly Menninger is presiding. In February, Woodward threw a cup of water at her, which led to the process of jury selection beginning over again

The parents recalled how they were immediately suspicious of Woodward, citing his behavior on the phone. They also testified that they knew Borrego Park well, and some of the things Woodward was saying did not add up..

‘I was concerned, because he sounded like he was lying – very anxious and nervous on the phone –  and some of the things [he said] didn’t make sense to me,’ Pepper said. 

She added: ‘It was gnawing at me, all these inconsistencies.’

Then, both recounted the ensuing six day search for the missing man, during which an ‘army’ of friends helped comb the park and surrounding areas.

‘I walked every square meter of that park,’ the father recalled, holding back tears. ‘I was all over… Yelling Blaze’s name.’

The search, sadly, ended unceremoniously – with participants coming across Bernstein’s savaged body in a grave at the edge of the park. 

He had been stabbed more than 20 times, authorities wrote in a subsequent incident report

Woodward, then 20, was promptly arrested. 

Blaze Bernstein's parents Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Bernstein read a statement at a press conference in front of the Orange County Sheriff's department after their son's body was found a week after he had disappeared from their family home

Blaze Bernstein’s parents Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Bernstein read a statement at a press conference in front of the Orange County Sheriff’s department after their son’s body was found a week after he had disappeared from their family home

Woodward, who was 20 at the time of the murder, has also been linked to a white supremacist group and kept troves of anti-gay and anti-Semitic material on his cell phone, which investigators were able to hack

Woodward, who was 20 at the time of the murder, has also been linked to a white supremacist group and kept troves of anti-gay and anti-Semitic material on his cell phone, which investigators were able to hack

Deputy DA Jennifer Walker alleges that Woodward had anti-gay, antisemitic beliefs that led him to join the Atomwaffen Division, an armed fascist organization based in Texas

Deputy DA Jennifer Walker alleges that Woodward had anti-gay, antisemitic beliefs that led him to join the Atomwaffen Division, an armed fascist organization based in Texas 

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, right, a suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, consults with his attorney in January, 2018

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, right, a suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, consults with his attorney in January, 2018

In an ensuing investigation, forensic officials tested blood from a knife found in Woodward’s room, and found that it matched DNA taken from Bernstein.

Blood stains found in Woodward’s car, meanwhile, matched DNA from both men. 

The case, currently on Day Four of proceedings, has taken years to come to trial because of questions surrounding Woodward’s mental state and ability to stand trial. 

In February, when the jury selection process began, a courtroom outburst from the suspect who who grew up in a conservative, religious family forced the process to begin again. 

The defendant threw a cup of water at presiding Judge Kimberly Menninger.

Deputy DA Jennifer Walker, meanwhile,  alleges that Woodward had anti-gay, antisemitic beliefs that led him to join the Atomwaffen Division, an armed fascist organization based in Texas

The prosecutor further claims that investigators have proof that Woodward had a ‘hate diary’ in which he wrote -in-depth entries that recounted how he would match with gay men on dating websites before ‘ghosting’ or scaring them.

Week two of the bombshell trial, during which prosecutors will look to prove that Woodward not only killed Bernstein but sought to murder him because he was gay, is set to begin Monday

Week two of the bombshell trial, during which prosecutors will look to prove that Woodward not only killed Bernstein but sought to murder him because he was gay, is set to begin Monday

Assistant Public Defender Ken Morrison, however, has argued that Woodward was more conflicted about his sexuality at the time of the murder, and is on the Autism spectrum.

During proceeding Thursday, Walked produced messages between Woodward and Bernstein on Tinder from the day of the killing, in which Woodward appeared to be interested in him romantically.

She also said that despite assuring Woodward he was keeping their correspondences a secret, Bernstein was relaying details of their exploits to some of his friends.

Week two of the bombshell trial, during which prosecutors will look to prove that Woodward not only killed Bernstein but sought to murder him because he was gay, is set to begin Monday. 

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