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Daniel Penny: Everything we know about ex-Marine filmed choking Jordan Neely in fatal subway incident

A subway passenger fatally choked a homeless street performer on the Manhattan F train

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 28 June 2023 15:22 BST
New York mayor Eric Adams says 'Jordan Neely did not deserve to die'

A former US Marine who choked Jordan Neely to death on a New York City subway car on 1 May has been identified as 24-year-old Daniel James Penny.

Neely’s death was ruled by the New York medical examiner’s office as a homicide due to compression against his neck. Video footage and eyewitness accounts show a man believed to be Mr Penny with his arm wrapped around Neely’s neck for several minutes until his eyes shut and body goes limp.

On 11 May, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced Mr Penny would face a charge of second-degree manslaughter. He turned himself into authorities in Manhattan the following morning, and he was released after posting $100,000 bail after a brief arraignment hearing.

A grand jury voted to indict Mr Penny on 14 June.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree manslaughter and a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide at his arraignment on 28 June.

“We’re confident that when a trial jury is tasked with weighing the evidence, they will find Daniel Penny’s actions on that train were fully justified,” Steven Raiser and Thomas Kenniff, attorneys for Mr Penny, told The Independent in a statement following news of the grand jury indictment.

New York City Police Department officers attempted CPR upon arrival on the F train at the Broadway-Lafayette platform in Manhattan on 1 May, according to an incident report reviewed by The Independent. Neely was pronounced dead at Lenox Health Greenwich Village hospital.

In a statement shared with The Independent at 7.30pm on 5 May, attorneys for Mr Penny said that when Neely “began aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others, acted to protect themselves, until help arrived.”

“Daniel never intended to harm Mr Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death,” the statement added. “For too long, those suffering from mental illness have been treated with indifference. 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.”

The Independent and other news outlets confirmed Mr Penny’s identity earlier on 5 May after online sleuths first discovered his name the previous night. Several news outlets, including The New York Post and The New York Daily News, reported attempts to reach him for comment earlier in the week or published details about his military history, but withheld his name from the public.

Neely’s previous criminal record and family history were widely published across tabloids and mainstream news outlets in the days after his death; less was known about the man who fatally choked him.

Widely shared video footage captured by journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez shows a man believed to be Mr Penny and two other men holding Neely to the floor of a train car on 1 May.

Police initially questioned but did not arrest Mr Penny.

Mr Penny is represented by attorneys with the firm Raiser and Kenniff, whose founding partners were both in the armed services. Thomas Kenniff also unsuccessfully ran for Manhattan district attorney as a Republican in 2021, ultimately losing to Alvin Bragg, who received more than 82 per cent of the vote.

Attorneys for Neely’s family said the statement from Mr Penny’s legal team was neither “an apology nor an expression of regret” but “character assassination and a clear example of why he believed he was entitled to take Jordan’s life.”

His family and the legal team supporting them have repeatedly characterised Mr Penny as the sole aggressor who escalated Neely’s distress to lethal violence.

Neely’s death has sparked widespread demands for support for homeless and mentally ill New Yorkers, as advocates and lawmakers condemned what they characterised as an act of vigilantism in a city that has marginalised its most vulnerable residents.

Attorneys for Mr Penny said in a statement shared with the The Independent on 11 May that they are “confident” he will be “fully absolved of any wrongdoing” when all the “facts and circumstances” emerge.

“When Mr Penny, a decorated Marine veteran, stepped in to protect himself and his fellow New Yorkers, his well-being was not assured. He risked his own life and safety, for the good of his fellow passengers,” they wrote.

Who is Daniel Penny?

According to US Marine Corps records and a LinkedIn profile, Mr Penny joined the Marines in 2017 after graduating from West Islip High School, a hamlet roughly 36 miles outside of Manhattan in Suffolk County.

Public records confirm Mr Penny’s former address at Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He served as a rifleman from 2017 to 2021 and reached the rank of sergeant, according to military records.

He left the Marines in 2021. He wrote in a service industry job site that his military experience helped him discover that he is “passionate” about “helping, communicating, and connecting to different people from all over the world.”

In interviews with The New York Post and Fox News, Mr Penny said he served as an infantry squad leader and an instructor in water survival and was deployed twice with travel to Spain, Greece, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Japan.

Photographs on a profile on the hiking website All Trails that appears to belong to Mr Penny also show his visits to trails across New England, Hawaii, Honduras, and North Carolina.

He is studying architecture while enrolled in college in New York, accordingto hist attorneys.

When he walked into a subway car on 1 May, Neely – a street performer who was experiencing homelessness – was complaining of hunger and thirst, according to Mr Vazquez, who posted a video of part of the incident on his Facebook page.

He wrote that Neely was yelling and said he was tired, didn’t care whether he went to prison, and was ready to die. He said Neely threw his jacket to the floor of the train car before another passenger grabbed him in a headlock. Others grabbed at his arms.

In the video filmed from inside the train car, a passenger can be heard warning the man holding Neely in a chokehold.

“You don’t want to catch a murder charge,” a man can be heard saying. “You got a hell of a chokehold, man.”

Mr Penny told Fox News that he was inspired by Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel (“One of the overall messages that he talked about was that good people did nothing ... It’s a lesson that I carry with me to this day”) and has repeatedly asserted that he choked Neely to prevent him from attacking other passengers.

Neely did not physically attack any passengers that day. His family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr Penny.

An online fundraising campaign for Mr Penny’s legal defence was launched on the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo, a website created in response to GoFundMe removing far-right campaigns that violated its terms of service. The fundraiser reached more than $2m within days of its launch, including roughly $600,000 on the day Mr Penny was charged alone.

Several donors – including Kid Rock, far-right streamer Tim Pool, and Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy – have contributed huge sums to Mr Penny’s fund, which is run by his attorneys.

“I was working two jobs as a student,” Mr Penny told Fox News. “My family doesn’t come from money so I’m incredibly thankful for this fund and all the people who have supported me.”

This was initially published on 5 May and has been updated with developments

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