By Dustin Brown
A Jamaica man pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges in the stabbing death of a Manhattan nightclub bouncer from Astoria who was killed in April when a fight broke out over a cigarette, the Manhattan district attorney said.
Isaias Umali, 31, of 89-04 171st St., was arraigned Friday in Manhattan Supreme Court before Judge Brenda Soloff on two counts of second-degree murder, said Sherry Hunter, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
Umali entered a plea of not guilty and is slated to return to court on July 25, Hunter said.
The death of Dana Blake, 32, a lifelong resident of the Astoria Houses known for his vivid artwork, struck a nerve in the community and prompted an outpouring of sympathy and outrage at a rally held in his memory days after his death.
Dana Blake's older brother Tony Blake said he hopes to hold an event in Astoria next month where an artist will unveil a sculpture created in his memory, which would be placed on display near the slain bouncer's home.
Blake had been working at Guernica, a lounge on Manhattan's Lower East Side, early the morning of April 13 when he was stabbed.
Umali had been celebrating a friend's birthday at Guernica when Blake approached the group around 2:30 a.m. to ask that a cigarette be put out in compliance with the city's new smoking ban, said George Brown, the Police Department's chief of detectives, at the time of Umali's arrest.
But when a rude response prompted Blake to eject Umali's friend Jonathan Chan, 29, a fight broke out that left the bouncer bleeding on the floor.
“During a fight, Umali pulled a knife and stabbed Blake once in the groin area,” Brown said.
The wound severed Blake's femoral artery, leading to his death 11 hours later in the hospital.
Umali allegedly fled down the street and into the subway system, discarding the knife along the way, Brown said.
Although police originally arrested Chan, his brother Ching and sister Alice – who left the bar soaked with blood – they were released when the DA's office said it could not find sufficient evidence to charge them, a decision that sparked outrage among Blake's supporters.
The break in the case came April 16 when a tip phoned into the city's police hotline fingered Umali and informed police he was at Mary Immaculate Hospital recovering from a suicide attempt, police said. Umali had slashed his wrists and throat April 14 after learning of Blake's death, police said.
Originally from the Philippines, Umali studied kali, a Filipino martial art, at a studio in Manhattan.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.