Prosecutors said on Thursday that a man who fatally choked an irate New York City subway user has been indicted by a grand jury.
Jordan Neely, a former Michael Jackson lookalike who had struggled in recent years with homelessness and mental illness, passed away on May 1; Daniel Penny was initially charged with manslaughter in connection with the incident last month.
A day after the news was widely reported, a representative for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg confirmed the grand jury had decided to indict. The precise charges will be revealed on June 28th, at Penny’s arraignment. He had been initially charged with second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison, but the case had to be approved by a grand jury in order to move further.
When Penny, a former U.S. Marine, pinned Neely to the floor of the moving subway vehicle with the assistance of two other passengers, Neely was yelling at people and pleading for money. Then, for more than three minutes, Penny choked Neely until his body became limp.
Penny has said he was protecting himself and other passengers, claiming Neely shouted “I’m gonna’ kill you” and that he was “ready to die” or go to jail for life.
“He was yelling in their faces saying these threats,” Penny said in a video released by his attorneys this week. “I just couldn’t sit still.”
Neely was acting violently and frightening people, but he hadn’t assaulted anyone, according to a freelance journalist who recorded him trying to free himself before collapsing into unconsciousness. Neely was of Black descent. Penny is a white person.
Many people who felt that Neely’s death was an instance of racial injustice protested, which sparked a discussion about vigilantism and public safety in New York City. Rev. Al Sharpton and other pundits linked the chokehold tragedy to the Bernhard Goetz incident in 1984, in which a white shooter killed four Black men on a subway train.
Several of the Republican presidential hopefuls have joined the support network for Penny. According to Penny’s attorneys, a fund established to cover the cost of his legal defense has amassed more than $2.8 million.
Steven Raiser and Thomas Keniff, the attorneys, expressed their confidence that a jury at a trial would deem Penny’s actions on the train to be appropriate.
“While we respect the decision of the grand jury to move this case forward to trial, it should be noted that the standard of proof in a grand jury is very low and there has been no finding of wrongdoing,” they said.
Neely, 30, had previously admitted to attacking a 67-year-old woman who was leaving a subway station in 2021 despite having a history of arrests.
Following a court appearance on May 12, Penny, 24, was released under a $100,000 bail.
Mayor of New York City Eric Adams said in a statement on Wednesday that the indictment will enable the administration of justice.
“I appreciate DA Bragg conducting a thorough investigation into the death of Jordan Neely,” he said. “Like I said when the DA first brought charges, I have the utmost faith in the judicial process, and now that the Grand Jury has indicted Daniel Penny, a trial and justice can move forward.”