U.S. Marine veteran Daniel Penny, in a series of videos released by his lawyers on Sunday, denied that he had intended to kill Jordan Neely with an ultimately fatal chokehold on a New York City subway on May 1, but noted he “couldn’t just sit still” while the mentally ill homeless man with a violent past was allegedly threatening to kill his fellow riders.
Penny, 24, is currently out on $100,000 bail after he was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on one count of second-degree manslaughter, with the case dividing the city into two distinct camps; one hailing him as a hero and the other as a murderer.
Penny, was a passenger on a northbound F train when Neely, 30, entered the car he was in and allegedly started threatening passengers, witnesses say. According to Penny’s attorney, Thomas Kenniff, his client came up behind Neely and placed him into a chokehold in order to protect himself and the other passengers.
Bystander footage shows Penny keeping Neely in the chokehold until he lost consciousness; Neely eventually died while in the hold, with the NYC medical examiner ruling the incident a homicide caused by compression of the neck.
In the videos released on Sunday, Penny told his side of the story, calling the incident a “scary situation” and saying that Neely had repeatedly threatened the lives of the passengers on the subway car.
“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. “I was listening to music at the time, and I took my headphones out to hear what he was yelling. The three main threats that he repeated over and over again were, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ ‘I’m prepared to go to jail for life,’ and, ‘I’m willing to die.’”
Despite being fearful of confronting the taller man, Penny said that he “couldn’t just sit still” while Neely was issuing threats.
“There’s a common misconception that Marines don’t get scared,” he said. “We’re actually taught one of our core values is courage, and courage is not the absence of fear but how you handle fear. I was scared for myself but I looked around, I saw women and children, he was yelling in their faces saying these threats. I couldn’t just sit still.”
Penny disputed reports that he held Neely in a chokehold for 15 minutes, and said that he had never intended to kill the homeless man.
“Some people say that I was holding on to Mr. Neely for 15 minutes. This is not true…between stops is only a couple of minutes. So the whole interaction lasted less than 5 minutes,” he said. “Some people say I was trying to choke him to death, which is also not true. I was trying to restrain him.”
Penny – who is white, while Neely was black – also stated that race was not a factor behind his actions, disputing widespread reports to the contrary.
Neely had an extensive criminal history with over 30 arrests to his name, including sucker punching two men in the face on subway platforms in 2019 and punching a 67-year-old woman in the face in 2021, breaking her nose and orbital bone.
If convicted of second-degree manslaughter, Penny faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.