Marine Veteran Pleads Not Guilty in Chokehold Death of Jordan Neely

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
June 28, 2023New York

A U.S. Marine veteran charged with manslaughter for putting Jordan Neely in a fatal chokehold on a subway train in New York City in early May pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Daniel Penny, 24, pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the May 1 death of Neely, a 30-year-old homeless man who was acting erratically and shouting at subway riders. Penny, with the help of two other passengers, pulled Neely to the floor and pinned him with a hold he learned during combat training.

The arraignment on the charges took only mere minutes. Penny, who was released on $100,000 bail in mid-May, was wearing a navy blue suit and only uttered the words “not guilty” before leaving the courtroom with his lawyers.

Neely’s relatives say he suffered from worsening mental illness for a long time. He also had a lengthy criminal record including more than 40 prior arrests ranging from disorderly conduct to assault.

In November 2021, he was charged with punching a 67-year-old woman as she was exiting a subway station, leading to a warrant for his arrest that was still active at the time of his death. The woman suffered broken bones in her face after being knocked to the ground.

Penny, who served in the Marines for four years and was discharged in 2021, was caught on video putting Neely in a chokehold on the floor of a northbound F train. Neely lost consciousness during the struggle and was later pronounced dead at a hospital. A city’s medical examiner ruled he died owing to “compression of the neck.”

‘I Just Couldn’t Sit Still’

In a series of video clips released by Penny’s lawyers, the Marine veteran recounted what he called “a scary situation,” saying Neely was threatening to kill passengers on the subway. “I couldn’t just sit still and let him carry out these threats,” he said.

“The man stumbled on, he appeared to be on drugs, the doors closed, and he ripped his jacket off and threw it down at the people sitting next to me at my left,” Penny said in the video.

“I was listening to music at the time, and I took my headphones out to hear what he was yelling,” he continued. “The three main threats that he repeated over and over was ‘I’m going to kill you,’ ‘I’m prepared to go to jail for life,’ and ‘I’m willing to die.'”

Jordan Neely
A passenger applies a chokehold to a man identified as Jordan Neely on the floor of a subway train in New York on May 1, 2023. (Courtesy of Juan Alberto Vazquez via Reuters/Screenshot via NTD)

Penny, who stands at six feet two inches tall, said that he was scared when encountering Neely—who was bigger than him—but felt that he had to do something when he saw him screaming in women’s and children’s faces.

“There’s a common misconception that Marines don’t get scared. We’re actually taught, one of our core values is courage, and courage is not the absence of fear but how you handle fear,” he said. “I was scared for myself, but I looked around, I saw women and children. He was yelling in their faces saying these threats.”

Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist who recorded the clip, echoed Penny’s concern in a New York Post interview last month, saying Neely had been threatening and screaming at other passengers “in an aggressive manner” while also complaining of hunger and thirst.

Neely’s family attorney said in a statement that they believe Penny should face a more serious charge, claiming he “intentionally” chose to put Neely in a chokehold designed to cut off air.

“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,” Neely’s family attorney Lennon Edwards said in mid-May.

Lawyers Argue Self-Defense

Penny’s lawyers have said their client was acting in self-defense. His attorney, Thomas Kenniff, previously told the New York Post that he’s “confident” Penny “will be absolved of any wrong doing.”

“Daniel [Penny] never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death,” the lawyers said.

A crowdfunding campaign launched by Kenniff’s law firm to pay for Penny’s legal fees has accumulated nearly $3 million as of the time of reporting.

“Any proceeds collected which exceed those necessary to cover Mr. Penny’s legal defense will be donated to a mental health advocacy program in New York City,” the firm said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, both Republican candidates for the 2024 primary, have supported Penny’s legal fund after he was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 12 on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Vivek Ramaswamy
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, speaks to guests at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Spring Kick-Off in Clive, Iowa, on April 22, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens. We stand with Good Samaritans like Daniel Penny. Let’s show this Marine… America’s got his back,” DeSantis said in a post on Twitter, which has been viewed nearly 12 million times.

Responding to DeSantis’s video, Ramaswamy revealed in a post on Twitter that he donated to Penny’s legal fund, encouraging more people to do so to “restore the rule of law in America.”

Rev. Al Sharpton and others angered by Neely’s death, meanwhile, have compared the incident to the 1984 subway shooting of four black men by Bernhard Goetz, a white man who shot at the group of men after they allegedly tried to rob him. Goetz was eventually acquitted of charges in the shooting except for carrying an unlicensed gun. All four teenagers survived, though one of them was paralyzed as a result of his injuries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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