Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (2023)

As a memorial service next week for Jordan Neely is being organized, his killer Daniel Penny awaits trial, where prosecutors will seek a grand jury indictment on a charge of manslaughter.

On Friday, Penny was arrested less than 24 hours after Manhattan prosecutors announced the charge of manslaughter, and then he was released on bond.

The 24-year-old could face up to 15 years in prison for administering a fatal chokehold on Neely, a 30-year-old Black man experiencing homelessness, on May 1 after an altercation on board the subway.

In the days following Neely's death, New York police failed to release substantial details about what happened on board the subway car leading up to the chokehold, as well as what happened in the minutes leading up to the arrival of police.

A medical examiner ruled Neely's death a homicide caused by depression of the neck.

Lawyers for Penny, a white U.S. Marine Corps veteran, say he acted in self-defense.

Bystanders on board the subway on May 1 have said Neely did not physically assault anyone in the moments leading up to Penny grabbing him from behind, lawyers say.

Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (1)

Here's what we know about the charges against Penny for the death of Neely:

What charges is Daniel Penny facing?

Nearly two weeks after administering a fatal chokehold on Neely, prosecutors announced Penny would be charged with second degree manslaughter.

On Friday, lawyer Lennon Edwards said the Manhattan district attorney "admitted" to him he could not recall a single other instance in the past 25 years where a suspect in a death case was released from custody after police secured a confession and video evidence, as in the case of Penny.

"He should have been arrested on the spot," the day of the incident, said Edwards, a lawyer for Neely's family.

On Friday, a judge authorized Penny’s release on $100,000 bond and ordered him to surrender his passport and not to leave New York without approval.

Edwards said the district attorney had told Neely's father this week to expect a possible indictment in June.

Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (2)

Thomas Kenniff, a lawyer for Penny, said Penny didn't mean to harm Neely and is dealing with the situation with the "integrity and honor that is characteristic of who he is and characteristic of his honorable service in the United States Marine Corps.”

Penny is due back in court on July 17.

A second-degree manslaughter charge in New York will require the jury to find that a person has engaged in reckless conduct that creates an unjustifiable risk of death, and then consciously disregards that risk. The law also requires that conduct to be a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would act in a similar situation.

Penny had never met Neely before the encounter on the train, according to attorneys for Neely's family.

Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (3)

What happened on the New York City subway?

After Neely had been yelling on board a subway car and threw his jacket on the ground, Penny held him in a chokehold for several minutes, while Neely flailed and tried to escape his grasp, according to witness accounts.

According to bystanders, Neely had been yelling about how hungry and tired he was, saying "I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up, I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die."

Video captured by a freelance journalist who was also riding the subway shows Penny with his arms wrapped around Neely's neck and his legs wrapped around the man's waist and thighs from behind.

After a few minutes, Penny releases Neely from his grasp and he lies motionless on the floor of the subway car, which is stopped at the Broadway-Lafayette MTA station, the video shows. Penny also had the man in the same chokehold prior to the start of the widely publicized video.

Police have said they responded the afternoon of May 1 to a 911 call about a "physical fight" inside the station and when they arrived, they found Neely unconscious and unresponsive.

Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (4)

He was later pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital in Greenwich Village, police said.

"How is someone allowed to be on the subway in New York City and be assaulted for 15 minutes straight and never receive any help, never receive any assistance? The MTA needs to answer for that," said attorney Donte Mills said at Friday press conference.

In the proceeding days, policefailed to release substantial detailsabout what happened between the two men and other passengers.

What have lawyers for Neely's family said about the case?

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said this week Neely had been making threats and “scaring passengers” when Penny approached him from behind and placed him in a chokehold.

Speaking Friday, Edwards said, "The issue of fear is not isolated to the subways and it's not isolated to New York. It's something that all of us need to address, but we need to be mindful of why we feel fear and who we're projecting our fear on, and what steps we take to remedy ourselves of fear."

The deadly chokehold itself could have lasted as long as 15 minutes, he said.

Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (5)

Who was Jordan Neely?

Neely was a Manhattan street and subway performer known for his impersonation of the 1980s singer Michael Jackson. He attended high school in Bayonne, New Jersey, just across the Upper Bay from the island of Manhattan, according to Friday's press conference.

In the years leading up to his death, Neely experienced homeless off and on, according to his family's lawyers. Sometimes, he lived with his aunt and her partner, and other times he lived at a Manhattan shelter or on the streets.

In the months and weeks leading up to his death, there were times when Neely got mental health treatment at a facility, lawyers for his family said Friday.

But the facility he had been going to sent him on his way against his family's wishes, who felt that Neely "wasn't ready to come home yet," lawyers said.

The facility said Neely was released from care because he was no longer in crisis and they required the use of his bed, Mills said at a Friday press conference.

After Neely's death, attorneys for his family said he started experiencing mental health problems at age 14, when his mother was murdered.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Edwards shared how Neely's mother was strangled at age 36 in the apartment where she and her teen son lived.

The woman's boyfriend strangled her in her bedroom and when her son tried to tell his mother goodbye for leaving for school that day, her murderer told him his mother was asleep and not to bother her, Edwards said.

When 14-year-old Neely returned home that afternoon, he learned the man had stuffed his mother's body in a suitcase and threw it onto a highway in the Bronx.

"That's the kind of trauma that can cause anyone to unravel," Edwards said. "This is a family that's extremely burdened."

Advocates for Neely say a cycle of violence, mental health problems and poverty were what led to the tragedy aboard the subway.

"Jordan Neely was a survivor of violence,"Jamila Hodge, executive director of the national violence prevention group Equal Justice USA told USA TODAY. "If we can see him first as a survivor of violence, it gives us a different perspective on what happened in the subway and helps us understand the trajectory his life had taken over the past 16 years."

Daniel Penny to face criminal charges: What we know about Jordan Neely's death (6)

People who knew him in the street performance community said would be his Michael Jackson impersonation in the Times Square transit hub and was a beloved part of many New Yorkers' daily commute.

Street performers who knew him described him as kind and gifted. They also said he suffered from worsening mental health and sunk into a depression as a result of his mother's 2007 death.

Tari Tudesco, a backup dancer in the Michael Jackson tribute act “Michael’s Mirror,” said many in the street performer community were searching for Neely, worried about his absence in recent years.

“We were in shock to find now that he was living homeless,” she said. “We feel terrible.”

Roger Abrams, a community health representative, said he saw Neely on the subway a week before his death. Neely was disheveled and told people he was hungry and in need of spare change. Abrams said he approached Neely and asked him why he no longer performs.

“I haven’t been feeling well,” Abrams remembered Neely saying.

He also had several arrests to his name, including the 2021 assault of a 67-year-old woman leaving a subway station.

Mayor Eric Adams, lawmakers speak out

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at a recent press conference Neely was a New Yorker who struggled with tragedy, trauma and mental illness and that his last words on board the subway were a "cry for help."

"His death is a tragedy that never should have happened," Adams said.

Democratic New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Neely's death murder andcriticized officials' response to the incident.

"This honestly feels like a new low: not being able to clearly condemn a public murder because the victim was of a social status some would deem 'too low' to care about," Ocasio-Cortez said.

More coverage from USA TODAY

NY $1B mental health plan to triple walk-in clinics. What else is planned to fight crisis?

Daniel Penny released on bond after manslaughter charge in subway death of Jordan Neely

Who was Jordan Neely, the New York subway victim? A 'young man in real crisis,' advocates say

Man who fatally choked Jordan Neely on NYC subway to face manslaughter charge, DA office says

Contributing: Christine Fernando, Jeanine Santucci, Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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