- Madeline Halbert in New York & Holly Honderich in Washington
- BBC News
A former US Navy SEAL who put a passenger in a fatal chokehold on a New York subway has appeared in court on manslaughter charges.
Daniel Penney, 24, is charged with causing the death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely on May 1. He did not file a plea.
His lawyers said he could not have known that his actions to subdue Mr Neely would lead to his death.
Mr Neely, who was homeless, was pinned to the ground and restrained in a train carriage for several minutes.
Eyewitnesses said he shouted at other passengers and demanded money.
Mr Neely was later knocked unconscious in the cab and taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. His death resulted from compression of the neck, the city’s medical examiner ruled.
With his hands cuffed behind his back, Mr Penny was formally charged in Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday and later released on $100,000 (£80,000) cash bail.
He must return to court on July 17 or a warrant will be issued for his arrest, the judge said. He has to return his passport and get permission to cross state borders.
On the day of Mr Neely’s death, Mr Penny was questioned by police and later released.
But footage of the altercation on a northbound F train sparked protests, and the Manhattan district attorney’s office launched an investigation.
Video captured by a freelance journalist on the train shows the ex-marine holding Mr Neely by the neck for two minutes and 55 seconds.
Journalist Juan Alberto Vasquez, who filmed it, told the New York Times that Mr Neely shouted at passengers but did not attack anyone.
He recalled Mr Neely saying, “I don’t mind going to jail and being in jail.”
On Friday morning, Mr Penny arrived in a black SUV at a police station in Manhattan to surrender to authorities. Dressed in a black suit and white shirt, he did not speak or answer any questions from reporters gathered outside.
His lawyer, Thomas Kenniff, said his client had “held his head high” and surrendered willingly “with the dignity and integrity that characterized his service to this grateful nation”.
Mr Penny “risked his own life and safety for the benefit of his fellow passengers”, Mr Kenniff said, adding that he was “hopefully exonerated of any wrongdoing”.
He faces second-degree manslaughter and up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
New York law requires a jury to find that Mr. Penny engaged in reckless conduct that created an unreasonable risk of death.
“The investigation to date has included extensive witness interviews, careful review of photo and video footage, and discussions with the medical examiner’s office,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
“As this case proceeds, we will limit speaking outside the courtroom to ensure this is a fair and impartial matter.”
New York defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman told the BBC he thought prosecutors would fail to meet this standard, and showed Mr Penny knew his actions would kill.
“Properly prosecuted, this is a slam dunk acquittal,” he said, calling Mr Penny a “sympathetic defendant”.
In a statement released days after Mr Neely’s death, Mr Penny’s lawyers said their client “never intended to harm Mr Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death”.
Mr Penny spent four years in the navy, rising to the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged in June 2021, according to his lawyers. He is now enrolled in a full-time undergraduate college studying architecture.
Across the street from the courthouse, a small memorial dedicated to Mr Neely is flanked by signs urging authorities to prosecute Mr Penny.
In a statement earlier this week, Mr Neely’s family said Mr Penny should remain in prison. “The family wants you to know that Jordan is important,” they said.
Mr Neely was a Michael Jackson impersonator who performed frequently in Times Square. “He sang, danced and had fun,” the family’s lawyer said.
Her mother, Christy Neely, was killed by her boyfriend in 2007 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2012, the Jersey Journal reported.
Following his mother’s death, Mr Neely began to experience mental health problems, said Donte Mills, a lawyer for the Neely family.
“He had demons. He suffered tragedy at a very young age,” Mr Mills said. “Then his mother was taken from him and her body dumped on a highway in a suitcase, and that changed Jordan’s mindset forever.”
Mr Neely was arrested on 42 charges of toll evasion, theft and assault on three women, according to US media reports. He recently pleaded guilty to assaulting a 67-year-old woman as she exited a subway station in 2021.
Addressing the arrests on Friday, Mr Mills said Mr Penny “didn’t know Jordan Neely before this incident. He didn’t know how many times he had been arrested.”
“So that’s not a factor,” he added.
Mayor Eric Adams said the case highlighted the need to improve the mental health system to better protect people like Mr Neely.
Mr Adams and New York State Governor Cathy Hochul have increased police presence in the city’s subways to address rising crime.
“Friend of animals everywhere. Devoted analyst. Total alcohol scholar. Infuriatingly humble food trailblazer.”