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Preliminary hearing set in Blaze Bernstein slaying; suspect is depressed, his attorney says

Preliminary hearing set in Blaze Bernstein slaying; suspect is depressed, his attorney says
Samuel Lincoln Woodward Newport Beach appears in court at the Orange County Central Justice Center in Santa Ana in January. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A hearing was set for June in the murder case against Samuel Woodward, the Newport Beach man accused in the stabbing death of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to move to trial.

Woodward, 20, appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit in a Harbor Justice Center courtroom Friday and spoke briefly with his attorney before agreeing to set his preliminary hearing for June 14.

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The hearing is expected to last half a day, attorneys told Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones.

Woodward pleaded not guilty last month to a murder charge and denied a sentencing enhancement allegation of personally using a deadly weapon, according to court records. Because Bernstein was gay and Jewish, authorities are investigating the possibility of also charging Woodward with a hate crime.

Woodward's attorney, Edward Munoz, said his client is depressed in jail and feels remorse for his family.

Munoz said Woodward has been reading the Bible and faring relatively well under the circumstances. He spoke after Friday's hearing.

Bernstein went missing in January while visiting his family in Orange County while on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania. Authorities say they found his body buried at a park where he went with Woodward the night he disappeared.

Woodward, a former classmate of Bernstein's at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, is being held in Orange County Jail with bail set at $5 million. If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in state prison.

Fry writes for Times Community News. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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