Orange County prosecutors indicted a former schoolmate of Ivy League college student Blaze Bernstein for murder.
Samuel Woodward, 20, was arrested Friday after DNA tests at the crime scene in Borrego Park and inside his car he was tied to the murder, authorities said.
Woodward was charged on Wednesday morning with a felony murder charge and an improved conviction for personal use of a knife, said Orange County District Attorney Michelle Van Der Linden. If convicted, he could face 26 years to life imprisonment, he said.
Bernstein, 19, was reported missing on January 3 by his family, who worried after he did not show up for a dental appointment and found his wallet and glasses in his room. He was on a winter vacation at the University of Pennsylvania, visiting his parents in Lake Forest when he disappeared.
Detectives used Bernstein's Snapchat account to identify Woodward, who had picked up Bernstein the previous night, Orange County Police Chief Don Barnes said Friday. .
Bernstein's body was found partially buried on January 10 near the park, after the rain exposed parts of the remains.
Barnes said investigators found inconsistencies in what Woodward told authorities.
An affidavit of search, obtained by the Orange County Register, said that Woodward had dirty fingernails, scratches and scrapes on his hands, and could not provide the last name or address of a girlfriend who said he visited after leaving Bernstein.
When asked about the abrasions by the detectives, Woodward allegedly said they were from a "fight club" in which he participated and that his nails were dirty because he fell into a "mud puddle" sparring.
Barnes said the DNA results led to Woodward's arrest. He had been under surveillance and was taken into custody after leaving his house around 1:15 p.m. Friday
Barnes said that Bernstein and Woodward had attended the same high school, identified in the order as the Orange County School of Arts.
On Tuesday, Bernstein said it is possible that his son has been the victim of a hate crime.
Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein wrote in an email to The Times that "our son was a beautiful and gentle soul that we love more than anything." We were proud of everything he did and what he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community. "
They noted that the investigation was continuing." If it is determined to be a hate crime, we will mourn not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere who live. with fear or who have been victims of [a] hate crime, "they wrote.