The Queens man who allegedly beat a young video game designer to death after being refused a cigarette last year was arraigned in a Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday.
Damian Diaz, 29, pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges, including first-degree manslaughter, that could land him in jail for 25 years for his alleged role in the killing of Jose Zambrano.
Zambrano, a 26-year-old Brooklyn resident originally from Venezuela, was found unconscious on a Williamsburg sidewalk in the early morning hours of November 17th, 2019.
According to prosecutors, Diaz and his cousin Joshua Hernandez, 25, approached Zambrano at the corner of Grand and Havermeyer, and demanded a cigarette. When he refused, both Hernandez and Diaz allegedly took turns punching the 26-year old.
The victim managed to walk away, but Diaz followed him down the street, striking him once and causing him to fall to the ground and lose consciousness, police said.
Hernandez was arrested within an hour of the alleged attack, while Diaz was picked up by police on January 23rd, after they reviewed security camera footage of the incident. Prosecutors allege that Hernandez, a Bushwick resident, is a member of the Latin Kings street gang.
Zambrano never regained consciousness, and was pronounced dead four days after the attack, surrounded by friends and family.
His death prompted an outpouring of grief from the gaming community, with friends remembering him as a "shining star" and caring mentor to younger developers. He co-founded the Stuido Studios, whose most recent game, The Take, was showcased in a 2018 Smithsonian exhibit, according to an obituary.
Zambrano was also a member of Latinx in Gaming community, which seeks to improve representation within the industry. He was featured in a Variety story about first-generation game designers, where he spoke of the inspiration he took from the “mix of cultures and subcultures in New York.”
"You made each and every day brighter, and inspired me to go further than I ever could have imagined," his friend and business partner, Rob Canciello, wrote on Twitter.
Diaz, who is being held on $25,000 bail, was ordered to return to court April 21st.
“The alleged violence this defendant and his accomplice inflicted claimed the life of a talented young man already making a name for himself in the business and video game communities," Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. "It is heartbreaking that such a senseless attack should deprive the victim, his family and friends from knowing his full potential."