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What are the charges against Daniel Penny?

BACKGROUNDER | The former Marine is on trial for the death of homeless man in New York


Daniel Penny (center) leaves Manhattan criminal court on June 28, 2023. Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images

What are the charges against Daniel Penny?
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Former Marine Daniel Penny, 24, pleaded not guilty on June 28 to charges of homicide and manslaughter stemming from the death of Jordan Neely on a subway train in New York on May 1. Neely, 30, was a homeless black man known for doing Michael Jackson impersonations. He died after Penny placed him in a chokehold, an action that Penny, who is white, described as an act of self-defense.

What happened on May 1? According to eyewitnesses and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Jordan Neely entered an F train heading north at New York’s 2nd Avenue station and began behaving erratically, making verbal threats to passengers. Penny, who was also on the train, approached Neely from behind and subdued him by placing him in a chokehold for several minutes, including after Neely’s body stopped moving. First responders later were unable to resuscitate Neely. The medical examiner later determined his cause of death to be compression of the neck.

What’s Penny’s defense? He has said he was acting to defend himself and other people after Neely began making threats. He said Neely declared he was going to kill passengers on the train. Penny’s lawyers added that Neely had a documented history of violence and mental illness.

What are the legal charges Penny is facing? Manhattan prosecutors have charged him with one count of criminally negligent homicide and another count of second-degree manslaughter. The homicide charge carries a maximum four-year prison sentence, while the manslaughter charge carries a 15-year maximum sentence.

What do prosecutors need to prove in order to obtain a conviction? For the homicide charge, prosecutors would have to prove Penny acted negligently in his actions, ignoring a risk of serious harm that would have been obvious to a reasonable person, and that the negligence led to Neely’s death. For the second-degree manslaughter conviction, prosecutors would have to prove that Penny acted recklessly and that he knew the chokehold could kill Neely.

Any similar cases for comparison? In New York in 2014, police officer Daniel Pantaleo briefly used an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner, 43, while restraining him during an arrest. Garner, who was black, repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe” before falling unconscious and dying. A medical examiner ruled Garner had died due to the chokehold and other physical restraint, with obesity, asthma, and heart disease as aggravating factors. In that case, a grand jury chose not to indict Pantaleo, although the New York Police Department later fired him.

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