June 27, 2019

Revisiting the Blaze Bernstein Tragedy

“From his cage in the far back of a courtroom in Newport Beach, California, Sam Woodward looked around. He appeared to stand on his tiptoes for a moment, peering through the bars at the gallery where his parents and a couple of family friends sat. He looked over at the judge and at his lawyer. He seemed confused and impatient. His hair, which had been combed neatly to the right in his yearbook photos, now fell in a loose mess around his ears. Usually clean-shaven, Sam sported a patchy, unkempt beard and a wiry mustache. A dirty undershirt poked through the collar of his orange jumpsuit.

Sam could see his mom, Michele, close to the front of the room. She was wearing a black blazer with black-and-white polka-dot pants. “I never thought I’d wear polka dots again,” Michele had told a friend in the hallway. “It seemed too cheerful.”

In between Sam and his family sat the counsel table, with a box for defense attorneys submitting paperwork. Pasted on the right side of the box was the David Mamet line: “Coffee is for closers only.””

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