Debate surrounding Jordan Neely’s killing moves to the courts



Ai generated image of Daniel Penny standing in a court room

Alexa Murphy and Lydia Ettinger

On May first, a passenger on the subway put 30 year old Jordan Neely into a chokehold, killing him before a train full of onlookers. A video of the incident depicts 24 year-old ex-Marine, Daniel Penny, pinning Neely to the ground as strangled Neely to death. 

Fellow passenger Juan Alberto Vasquez, a freelance journalist, recorded the video and published it on Facebook. According to Vasquez, Neely stood in the middle of the train, yelling that he didn’t have food or water, that he was homeless, that he was tired, and that he didn’t care if he was sent to jail. Neely then bundled up his jacket and threw it on the floor with force enough that “you could hear the sound of the zipper hitting the floor,” Vasquez had told Curbed. 

It was then that the other passenger attacked Neely. When the doors opened at [fill in subway stop], every other passenger fled the scene, and the video began from the vantage point of the subway platform, looking in through the window. From the platform, passengers yelled to “call the police!” though there were none in the vicinity.  Several bystanders then stood between the closing doors—demanding that the doors stayed open in order for help to arrive— which prompted the conductor to call for police assistance over the speaker.

Vasquez continued in the interview with Curbed, “Then he wasn’t moving anymore, and we were all looking at each other, like, ‘What’s going on? Did he faint? What happened?’ I got off the train, and I filmed another 30-second video where you can see it’s the F train. In that second video, you can see Neely is lying down and two guys are standing over him — the one who grabbed him and one other man. The second guy, he wanted to help. You can see in my first video that he never touches Jordan and never tries to restrain him; he is simply trying to listen to him and trying to tell the other one not to squeeze him so hard.” 

Ten days after Neely’s killing on May 1 Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, filed a felony complaint of second-degree manslaughter against Penny. Although Penny faced possible charges of first degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, the evidence obtained by prosecutors engendered them to file a felony complaint of manslaughter in the second-degree. “There are times when someone does something like that where you could say that they acted with the intent to murder, murder in the second degree. In this case they determined based on the evidence they had, the best that could they do is that he acted recklessly which is a lesser form of intent or mens rea,” said former Bronx and Brooklyn homicide prosecutor Ed Purce. 

The process of filing a felony complaint did two main things to bolster the case against Neely: first, it gave investigators ample time to interview as many witnesses as would substantially negate the claim made by Penny’s lawyers, that the killing was a necessary means of self defense.  Second, it allowed prosecutors to skip the unpredictable process of working through a grand jury, who may or may not have charged Penny at all. Other factors may have led to the DA’s decision to skip the initial Grand Jury hearing and pursue indictment charges, with many arguing that the rise in protests calling for justice against Penny and in politicians demanding action might have played a significant role in the urgency of the case brought against Penny. Several civil rights activists rallied in support as they grieved Mr. Neenly’s death this past Friday. Activist Al Sharpton, who eulogized Neely, said  “Jordan was screaming for help. We keep criminalizing people with mental illness.”

More than 2 million dollars have been raised via GiveSendGo in support of Mr. Pennys claim to self defense. The fundraiser was initially started by Raiser and Kenniff, the law firm representing Penny. Thomas A. Keniff, 2021 DA election opponent of Alvin. L Bragg and Penny’s lawyer, said “[Penny] was really putting himself in harm’s way for the benefit of others. He shouldn’t be pilloried for that. He should be celebrated.” These claims to self defense will inevitably be challenged in court. “The prosecutor will have the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt that Penny was not justified [for acting in self defense]. [Penny] could argue that it was proper for him to defend himself or another person and that he felt that Mr. Neely was going to use deadly physical force on another person, and in which case Mr. Penny would be permitted if he were justified to counteract whatever Mr. Neenly was doing,” said Purce.