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A New York man accused in a racially-motivated attack of a 61-year-old Chinese immigrant — who died more than eight months after he was assaulted — has now officially been charged with his murder.
Jarrod Powell, 50, was indicted on second-degree hate crime murder charges in last spring’s deadly attack of retired dim sum pastry chef Yao Pan Ma, according to newly filed charging documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
On April 23, 2021, Ma was viciously attacked and kicked in the head several times as he collected recyclables in Harlem. Ma, who suffered severe brain damage, facial fractures and had been placed on life support, died in a Harlem care home on Dec. 31.
Powell was arraigned on the upgraded charges in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday. He pleaded not guilty, officials said. He had previously been charged with two counts of hate crime assault.
The latest charging decision in the case, which came more than a month after the Chinese kitchen worker’s death, was announced on Thursday by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
“The devastating death of Yao Pan Ma, a beloved father of two, occurred amidst a surge of anti-Asian attacks targeting our families, friends, neighbors, and New York values,” Bragg said in a statement. “As alleged, Jarrod Powell selectively attacked Mr. Ma for no other reason than his race.”
Since entering office in January, Bragg had faced growing pressure from Ma’s family, as well as local activists and community leaders to upgrade Powell’s charges in the case. The newly elected top city attorney attended and briefly spoke at a vigil for Ma last month.
“Mr. Ma did die as a result of this incident, being attacked,” Karlin Chan, a spokesperson for the Ma family, told Oyxgen.com on Friday morning. “The medical examiner signed it off as a homicide. We hope they do a thorough prosecution. Hopefully the district attorney’s office will secure a conviction and put him away for the rest of his life.”
A man identified as Powell was captured by surveillance cameras violently stomping on Ma’s head at the corner of 3rd Avenue East and 125th Street in uptown Manhattan on April 23, 2021. Footage of the seemingly unprovoked attack depicted Powell forcefully bringing his foot down on Ma’s head at least half a dozen times as the Chinese man laid motionless on the concrete.
Powell later told detectives he’d mistook Ma for a "Korean guy," who had maced and robbed him, according to additional court documents obtained by Oxygen.com. The account of Powell being robbed was never confirmed by police. He denied "having problems with Asians."
Ma’s widow was “relieved” to learn of the upgraded murder charges this week, the family’s spokesperson said.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Chan, who attended Powell’s arraignment on Thursday, explained. “It’s far from over. Getting indicted and getting convicted are two different stories.”
Ma, a retired dim sum pastry chef, was described as a “gentle” and “loving family man,” who had “fallen on hard times” after settling in New York City with his wife in 2018.
In early 2020, Ma, who was employed at a noodle shop in Chinatown, found himself jobless during the initial onset of COVID-19 pandemic. He later resorted to gathering discarded recyclables for income to support himself, according to the family.
When Powell allegedly attacked Ma last year, the 61-year-old immigrant was reportedly scouring Harlem for redeemable bottles and cans to redeem for five cents a piece.
“The family is in mourning, so that’s sort of the main focus,” State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who represents New York’s 65th District (which encompasses sections of lower Manhattan, including Chinatown) told Oxygen.com. “We just want folks to understand that our entire community has been mourning and it’s been a really difficult time for all of us.”
The attack on Ma coincided with a national and citywide spike in hate crimes wrongly targeting Asian-Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, police received 133 anti-Asian hate crime complaints, compared to only 30 in 2020, according to city data. Only two anti-Asian hate crime incidents have been reported this year, a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department confirmed with Oxygen.com.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is also currently prosecuting a record-level 33 hate crimes concerning attacks involving anti-Asian bias.
In May 2021, President Joe Biden signed an anti-Asian hate crime bill into law to expedite the review of COVID-19 hate crimes at the federal level. The legislation also included the creation of a hate crime tipline network, as well as police grants to train officers to respond to possible hate crime scenarios.
“This racism is systemic,” Niou added. “We need to end this hate, we need to educate people and let them understand that we belong here. We’re Asian-Americans — we’re Americans, too. This is systemic hate and this is systemic racism and we need to end it now.”
Powell’s defense lawyer, Richard Verchick, declined to comment on the newly filed murder charges against his client this week.
“I do not wish to speak but thank you for thinking of me,” Verchick told Oxygen.com on Friday.
Powell’s bail was set at $3 million cash in court this week. His next in-person court date is set for April 11 at 11:30 a.m.
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