Daniel Penny plans to testify in Jordan Neely murder

The man accused of killing a homeless subway passenger in a minutes-long chokehold that was captured on video plans to tell his story in front of a grand jury in a bid to avoid a manslaughter indictment, according to reports. people familiar with the matter.

The man, Daniel Penny, would testify in his own defense next month. The move appears to reflect his lawyers’ confidence that Navy veteran Mr. Penny can shape how jurors view the highly publicized and politically charged episode of an F-train earlier this month.

The grand jury, assembled by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, can vote to indict Mr. Penny, 24, in the death of Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old former Michael Jackson impersonator who relatives say was battling for a long time against serious mental illness.

The racial dynamics of the case – Mr. Neely was black and Mr. Penny is white – and the decision by police not to immediately arrest Mr. Penny made it an instant flashpoint in New York and beyond .

Mr. Penny’s cause has been championed by some conservatives and has become a talking point for Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential nomination. Mr. Penny, they claim, was protecting his fellow travelers and his prosecution is unfair.

Progressive leaders have said the murder and delayed arrest of Mr Penny is evidence of a racist justice system – a stance echoed by protests following Mr Neely’s death. And many pointed to the structural problems they say were highlighted by the murder: insufficient care for people with mental illness and New York’s inability to fully provide safe subways.

Mr Penny surrendered to police 11 days after the murder. He was charged with manslaughter by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which began preparing to present evidence to the grand jury.

Although Mr. Penny has been arrested and charged, prosecutors still need to seek an indictment to move the case forward. To do so, they must convince a majority of grand jurors that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Penny has committed a crime. The grand jury of 23 randomly selected Manhattan people will meet behind closed doors over the next few weeks, although the exact timing of the process is unknown.

For the vast majority of defendants, an indictment before a grand jury is almost a foregone conclusion. Under New York law, defendants have the right to answer questions under oath before the grand jury before being charged, but rarely do so. The testimony of defendants before a grand jury may be admitted as evidence at a possible trial, whether or not they choose to testify during the trial itself.

Mr. Penny’s plan to testify indicates that his attorneys are confident he could well represent himself before a grand jury.

Former prosecutors have said that given the unusual circumstances of the charge against Mr Penny, the plan to have him testify made sense.

“They’re going to play 100% on the humanity of this guy,” said Thomas Schiels, a 30-year veteran of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “He has extensive military experience, he has apparently never been arrested before, he will speak quite well and his request, although it may not be in legal self-defense, will certainly please much of the general public.”

A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, as did the law firm representing Mr. Penny, Raiser and Kenniff.

On May 1, Mr Neely got visibly upset on an F train in SoHo, shouting that he was hungry and did not care about going back to jail or even dying, witnesses told police. He had a long history of arrests and, three months earlier, had pleaded guilty to assaulting a 67-year-old woman, an unknown person, in the street, leaving her with a broken nose and eye socket and other injuries.

But although witnesses said Mr Neely’s behavior on the train was ‘hostile and erratic’, there is no indication he physically threatened anyone, and it is highly unlikely the other passengers knew his criminal history. The moments leading up to Mr. Penny’s actions are likely central to the grand jury’s concerns.

Mr. Penny placed Mr. Neely in a chokehold that resembled the non-lethal maneuver taught to Marines in training. Known as a blood choke, it’s designed to cut off circulation – not airflow – to the brain. Done correctly, a blood choke can render an opponent unconscious in as little as eight seconds.

But a passenger began filming the pair on his phone after Mr Penny’s chokehold was already in place, and video shows it lasted around four minutes – continuing after Mr Neely went limp and lost consciousness. The length of the strangulation was noted by the prosecutor handling the case, Joshua Steinglass, when Mr Penny was arraigned on May 12. This will likely be another source of interest for grand jurors, as will Mr. Penny’s potential explanation.

Little is known about Mr Penny outside of his military service, a four-year enlistment in the Marines that sent him on two deployments to the Mediterranean. He was honorably discharged in 2021, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He settled for a time in nearby Wilmington, a beach town popular with surfers and newly independent Navy veterans. He was both.

He walked into a surf shop in late 2021 looking for a job and was hired immediately, said a former colleague there, Sam Santaniello, 20. He recalled Mr. Penny’s somewhat complicated relationship with the Marine Corps.

“He said, ‘It was the worst but the best time of my life,'” Mr. Santaniello recalled in an interview. “I think the Marine Corps, for him, was just a way for him to travel. He loves to travel and we talked about it.

Lawyers for Mr. Penny have refused to make him available for interviews with the media, except for the New York Post, which spoke with him on May 20 on Long Island. Mr Penny then said he used the Tube regularly and the incident on May Day was unlike “anything I had experienced before”.

“It had nothing to do with race,” he told the Post, declining to discuss the murder itself.

Mr. Santaniello described his friend as a detached centrist. “There are people in our generation who are just swallowed up in politics. I don’t think any of us are,” he said. “He’s just a little fair in between. I’m sure there are ideas he likes that are on the left, and he likes ideas that are on the right.

But he added: “I think now he really appreciates the support he has received.”

Mr Neely’s story was much more closely documented, and his behavior and actions were regularly recorded by Underground social workers, who usually provided assistance and traveled around, but sometimes took him to shelters.

After his arrest in the assault on the woman in 2021, he spent months in jail and was released to a mental health facility in February, with medication and a specific 15-month rehabilitation plan. But he quit the program just 13 days later.

Kevin Maurer contributed reporting from Wilmington, North Carolina


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