The attorney representing the 21-year-old man on trial for the murder of former Penn student Blaze Bernstein could remove himself from the case, a judge ruled this morning. The court appointed a public defender to replace him.
"Today, [Samuel] Woodward's previously retained attorney Ed Muñoz, who completed the preliminary hearing, asked the judge to be relieved as the attorney of record," Senior Deputy District Attorney for Orange County Steve McGreevy told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
McGreevy said the judge appointed Robert Kohler, an Orange County public defender, to serve as Woodward's attorney and moved the arraignment to Nov. 9 to provide the defense with sufficient time to review the discovery and to determine if there are any conflicts in representing Woodward.
Muñoz had served as Woodward's attorney since January. Prosecutors filed murder charges against Woodward on Jan. 17 — roughly two weeks after Bernstein disappeared.
Muñoz did not respond to immediate request for comment.
In a preliminary hearing earlier this month, an Orange County judge ordered Woodward to stand trial on murder and hate crime charges. Prosecutors presented evidence including DNA results from blood stains on Woodward's possessions and a plethora of homophobic and anti-semitic content on Woodward's cell phone. Bernstein was gay and Jewish.
Muñoz did not present any witnesses during the hearing, but contended that Woodward was sexually confused, socially awkward, and had autism. He also argued, U.S. News & World Report reported, there was not enough evidence to support the hate crime charge, noting that much of the hateful content on Woodward's phone was contained in messages to himself.
"I think in a hate crime instance you have to have an outward manifestation of your loathing to the world," Muñoz said after the hearing.
Woodward is being held on $5 million bail and has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison without parole with the sentencing enhancement of a hate crime.
The upcoming post preliminary hearing arraignment is scheduled to take place at 8:30 a.m. in the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, Calif. according to Orange County Superior Court records. Woodward will once again enter a plea during the arraignment.
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