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Man who choked NYC subway rider to death will face manslaughter charge, prosecutors say

Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran, will be arrested and face a charge of second degree manslaughter. That could carry a jail term of up to 15 years

Several hundred people protest the death of Jordan Neely
A group of several hundred people protest the death of Jordan Neely, Friday, May 5, 2023, at Washington Square Park in New York.Brooke Lansdale (AP)

Manhattan prosecutors said Thursday that they will bring criminal charges against a man who used a fatal chokehold on an unruly passenger aboard a New York City subway train, a death that stirred outrage and debates about the response to mental illness in the nation’s largest transit system.

Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran, will be arrested and face a charge of second degree manslaughter, which could carry a jail term of up to 15 years.

“We cannot provide any additional information until he has been arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court, which we expect to take place tomorrow,” the Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a statement.

The charges come nearly two weeks after Penny pinned fellow subway rider Jordan Neely, 30, to the floor of a subway car and put him in a chokehold that lasted for several minutes.

According to a freelance journalist who witnessed the struggle, Neely, who is Black, had been screaming and begging for money aboard the train prior to the takedown, but had not physically attacked anyone.

Attorneys for Penny, who is white, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. They previously said their client, along with two other riders who helped restrain Neely, had acted in self-defense.

“Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death,” they said in a statement.

A former subway performer known for his spot-on Michael Jackson impression, Neely struggled in recent years with homelessness and worsening mental illness, friends said. He had been arrested several times, and had recently pleaded guilty to assaulting a 67-year-old woman in 2021 as she left a subway station. After pleading guilty, he missed a court date, leading to a warrant for his arrest that was still active at the time of his death.

His death has divided some in New York and beyond, triggering intense debates and protests. Left-leaning advocates described the killing as an act of racist vigilantism, invoking comparisons to the infamous subway shooting carried out by Bernhard Goetz against four teenagers in 1984.

Others, including Mayor Eric Adams, have urged caution, calling on New Yorkers to wait for the full facts and investigations. They note that much is still not known about what precipitated the chokehold.

As the investigation has continued, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has faced pressure to make an arrest. Penny was questioned by police in the hours after Neely died, but released without charges.

A second-degree manslaughter charge in New York will require the jury to find that a person has engaged in reckless conduct that creates an unjustifiable risk of death, and then consciously disregards that risk. The law also requires that conduct to be a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would act in a similar situation.

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