An attorney for Daniel Penny, the Marine veteran charged in the death of homeless man Jordan Neely on a subway train in New York City on May 1, said it’s “absurd” for the Neely family’s attorney to claim his client believed he had the right to take someone’s life.
Thomas Kenniff made the remarks while responding to an earlier statement by the Neely family’s attorney, Donte Mills, in reaction to Penny’s recent interview with the New York Post.
“We want to know why he didn’t let go of that chokehold until Jordan was dead,” Mills said in a statement obtained by Fox News, adding that Penny’s “planned drive through Africa can’t explain why you thought you had the right to take someone’s life even if they were houseless and had mental illness.”
During an appearance on “The Story” on Monday, Kenniff said he wouldn’t get into a back-and-forth fight with the attorneys representing Neely’s family, but he did say he believes it’s “absurd” for Mills to make such a claim publicly.
“It’s absurd to say that Danny Penny thought he had the right to take anyone else’s life and intended to take anyone’s life,” Kenniff said. “This was a situation where my client, who is just an everyday New Yorker, was put in a situation that none of us would want to be in and took reasonable steps to try to subdue someone who had introduced a frightening, threatening environment into that subway train.”
Neely, 30, had a long history of mental illness and dozens of prior arrests, ranging from disorderly conduct to assault. In 2021, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a 67-year-old woman leaving a subway station. He then missed a court date, leading to a warrant for his arrest that was still active at the time of his death. However, activists argue that Neely’s criminal history does not justify the killing.
Witnesses said Neely was behaving aggressively toward other passengers on the subway car before the incident unfolded, allegedly shouting things such as “I want food,” that he would not take no for an answer, that he was “ready to go back to jail, ” and “I’ll hurt anyone on this train.”
When Penny’s attorney was asked on Monday’s program if his client has witnesses willing to testify in his defense, Kenniff responded that a “multitude” of people on the subway already offered statements describing how “frightening” and “terrifying” Neely’s behavior was before Penny, among other subway riders, decided to subdue him.
“The decision to have a defendant or someone accused of a crime testify in front of a grand jury is obviously a very significant decision. It’s one that’s made with a lot of deliberation between the legal team [and] the client. And that’s not a decision that has been made at this juncture. We first need to have come to the point where the grand jury presentation is actually ongoing,” Kenniff said.
“What I will say, though, is that we have a very thorough and proactive investigation,” he continued. “There are a multitude of civilian witnesses—both those other individuals who got involved in subduing Mr. Neely and the bystanders on the train—who really talk almost uniformly about how frightening and how terrifying this situation was for them just being on the train and observing Mr. Neely’s behaviors.”
Penny, 24, was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 12 on a charge of second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment. He is due back in court for another hearing on July 17.
In an interview with the New York Post last week, Penny, who is white, pushed back against claims that the deadly NYC subway altercation that resulted in the death of Neely, who was black, was related to race.
“This had nothing to do with race,” Penny said in response to questions from the paper, adding, “I judge a person based on their character. I’m not a white supremacist.”
“Everybody who’s ever met me can tell you, I love all people, I love all cultures,” he said. “It’s tragic what happened to him,” he added. “Hopefully, we can change the system that’s so desperately failed us.”
Call for Murder Charges
Kenniff previously said his client did not intend to kill Neely, arguing that Penny and other passengers were acting in self-defense. The attorney told the New York Post that he’s “confident” Penny “will be absolved of any wrongdoing.”
However, Neely’s family has called for more serious charges of murder to be imposed on Penny.
“Daniel Penny chose, intentionally chose, a technique to use that is designed to cut off air—that’s what he chose—and he chose to continue to hold that chokehold minute after minute, second after second, until there was no life left in Jordan Neely,” Lennon Edwards, the Neely family’s attorney, told reporters on May 12.
Neely’s death has fiercely divided Americans, and prompted protests in New York City calling for “justice” and increased law enforcement accountability.
The incident has also brought renewed attention to several issues in the state, including crime in the subway, the treatment of mental health conditions, and the city’s growing homeless population.
Penny’s law firm blamed elected officials earlier this month for turning a blind eye to mental illness in the state. “We hope that out of this awful tragedy will come a new commitment by our elected officials to address the mental health crisis on our streets and subways,” they said.
Meanwhile, a fundraiser set up for Penny by his lawyers, Thomas Kenniff and Steven Kaiser, has raised over $2.7 million.
Epoch Times reporter Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.