He was sorry. From the time he entered the courtroom Monday, Bernie Madoff was a study in understatement. He wore a dark suit, rimless glasses. He sat in a cushioned chair with his back to his victims, an unruly shock of gray hair tumbling over his collar. Throughout the serial denunciations, he showed little emotion. One victim called him a beast. He folded his hands together. One seemed to suggest that Satan should eat him. He looked down at the defense table. One called him the most despised man in America. He touched his index fingers together and propped his chin on the tepee they formed. Lowlife? He rubbed his nose. When he got his turn to speak, Madoff coughed, took a drink of water, and spoke with an air of resignation that suggested he knew his lawyer's pleas for leniency had no chance. "How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who have entrusted me with their life savings?" he asked. " . . . There is no excuse for that, and I don't ask any forgiveness." But if not forgiveness, he asked for understanding. He said the "problem" - a word that he quickly corrected to "crime" - began when he tried to bail out a set of bad investments for some clients with money from other clients. He was not evil, he said. He just made a lot of mistakes. His sin, he said, was more pride than greed. "Although I may not have intended any harm, I did a great deal of harm," he said. "As hard as I tried, the deeper I dug myself into a hole. . . . I made an error of judgment. I refused to accept the fact, could not accept the fact, that for once in my life I failed. I couldn't admit that failure and that was a tragic mistake." It lasted about six minutes. Madoff went on to insist on his humanity. He said his wife, Ruth, cried herself to sleep every night. He said he was "tormented" and felt "terrible" for disgracing his family and damaging his industry. Then, the emotional high point. Madoff wheeled and faced the eyes of about 180 reporters and victims seated in the courtroom, a step he had been criticized for not taking at the time of his guilty plea in March. "I apologize to my victims. I will turn and face you," he said. "I am sorry. I know that doesn't help you."