The suspect in the killing of University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein appeared in court Friday to face a murder charge in the stabbing death of his former high school classmate, entering a plea of not guilty.
Samuel Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, California, was arrested on Jan. 12 on suspicion of homicide and charged with one felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement of the personal use of a knife, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
PEOPLE has reached out to both Woodward’s attorney and District Attorney but has yet to receive comment from either.
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During his arraignment on Friday, his bail was set at $5 million by the judge. He is due back in court on March 2, according to the OC Register.
He faces a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Home on winter break, Bernstein was reported missing on Jan. 3, hours after Woodward had picked him up at his house in Lake Forest in southern California, say authorities.
After an extensive search, Blaze’s body was found on Jan. 9 in a shallow grave in the brush around the perimeter of a park near his home.
DNA evidence allegedly ties Woodward to the murder, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas says.
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The DA said that authorities are still trying to determine a motive and have not provided any details of the killing except to say that Bernstein “was stabbed.”
A search warrant affidavit released by the Orange County Register that has since been sealed revealed that Blaze was stabbed more than 20 times.
According to the affidavit, on Jan. 2, the night Bernstein went missing, Woodward told investigators that his former classmate kissed him on the lips while they sat in Woodward’s car in the parking lot outside a Hobby Lobby in Lake Forest, near the park where Bernstein’s body was later found.
Woodward allegedly told investigators that “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him,” the affidavit states.
The DA previously said authorities are still weighing whether to charge Woodward with a hate crime. “We’re looking for that evidence and if and when we find it, we will amend the charges.”
Woodward was scheduled to be arraigned in Orange County Superior Court in January, but the hearing was postponed until Friday.
At the January hearing, a judge granted the prosecution’s request for no bail and ruled that he continue to be jailed without bail until his arraignment.