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A New York prep cook who was brutally beaten while collecting bottles last spring has now died, eight months after the suspected hate crime attack.
Yao Pan Ma, 62, died on New Year’s Eve from injuries sustained in the unprovoked April 2021 attack, according to family sources. The New York City Police Department is now investigating Ma’s Dec. 31 death as a homicide.
On April 23, 2021 Ma was found bleeding and unconscious at the intersection of East 125th Street and 3rd Avenue in Harlem. Video surveillance revealed he was ruthlessly beaten and kicked in the head numerous times. Ma, who suffered brain damage, facial fractures, as well as other physical injuries, was placed on life support at Harlem Hospital.
Powell openly admitted to violently assaulting Ma, claiming the Chinese immigrant had previously robbed him, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
Powell, who told investigators he lived in a homeless shelter, claimed a "Korean guy" maced him and stole his jewelry, and money a day earlier. The unverified incident was never reported to the New York City Police Department. Powell was unable to provide detectives with any further information regarding the encounter other than that the perpetrator was supposedly Asian, charging documents stated. The 50-year-old also denied "having problems with Asians."
Powell was subsequently booked on a trio of felony charges, including attempted murder and two counts of hate crime assault, according to an indictment obtained by Oxygen.com.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office hasn’t yet confirmed if prosecutors will now pursue murder charges against Powell following Ma's death. A spokesperson for incoming District Attorney Alvin Bragg declined to comment on the case on Monday when contacted by Oxygen.com.
Some community activists in Harlem are now calling on Manhattan prosecutors to upgrade Powell’s charges.
“[Ma] never awakened from a deep, deep, deep sleep — he died [as a] result of the attack,” Karlin Chan, a family spokesperson told Oxygen.com. “We want the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to follow suit and upgrade the charges from attempted murder to murder. Jarrod Powell has to be held accountable for his actions on April 23."
Ma, a dim sum pastry chef, immigrated from China’s Guangdong Province to the U.S. in 2018. He and his wife, Baozhen Chen, settled in Chinatown where he landed a job as a prep cook at a noodle restaurant on Canal Street, Chan said.
But in 2019, his apartment building in Chinatown burned down, forcing Ma and his wife to seek refuge with a relative uptown.
“That’s what brought him to Harlem,” Chan said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic enveloped the city in early 2020, Chinatown was one of the first — and hardest hit — neighborhoods in New York. In March 2020, the restaurant which employed Ma, Sun Sai Gai, shuttered amid a citywide lockdown. Chan said Ma didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits.
Ma, who didn't speak English, eventually resorted to gathering discarded cans, bottles and other redeemable recyclables for income, which he was doing when Powell allegedly attacked him.
“He attacked him from behind and he proceeded to stomp him to death,” Chan added. “I would say he died that night — his body was still functioning but after eight months of not eating beyond a feeding tube, your internal organs start to, you know, [shut down], you’re not getting the nutrition you need.”
Ma had been unresponsive and comatose since the attack, and was being cared for at the New Jewish Home senior rehabilitation center on 106th Street at the time of his death.
Chan had described his chances for recovery as “very, very slim.”
“He never regained consciousness and even though his eyes were open slightly at times, he was unresponsive,” Chan explained. “His eyes did not follow a flashlight or any kind of light.”
Ma’s wife is now coping with the devastation of his prolonged death.
“[She] is quite devastated,” Chan said. “She’s always been holding up hope that he’ll wake up and get out of there…she’s in seclusion. She’s taking it pretty hard, of course. There’s a certain amount of bitterness. From day one, she doesn’t understand why Jarrod Powell attacked and killed her husband."
In 2020, the FBI warned that possible hate crime attacks against Asian-American and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. were surging amidst the coronavirus pandemic. New York City, especially, saw a spike in reported hate crimes targeting citizens of Asian descent. The New York City Police recorded 129 reported anti-Asian hate crime attacks between January and early December 2021 according to city data provided to WNBC in New York.
In 2020, police said there were 28 hate crime complaints involving Asian victims, CBS News reported.
“What happened to Mr. Ma was one of the more savage, for a total stranger to attack you in that manner with that much hate,” Chan said. “It’s not the norm but it does happen…This is a tragedy.”
Powell, who has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled back in New York Supreme Court court on Feb. 10.
Richard Verchick, his defense attorney, hung up the telephone when contacted by Oxygen.com for comment regarding Ma’s death this week.
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