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A U.S. Marine veteran pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the fatal chokehold of a man who was behaving erratically on a New York City subway train.
Daniel Penny, 24, pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the May 1 death of Jordan Neely, a former Michael Jackson impersonator who was shouting and begging for money when Penny pinned him to the floor of the moving subway car with the help of two other passengers and held him in a chokehold for more than three minutes.
Neely, 30, lost consciousness during the struggle and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
A grand jury voted to indict Penny on updated charges earlier this month. Wednesday’s arraignment on the charges lasted mere minutes. Penny, who is free on bond, uttered only the words “not guilty” before he left the courtroom with his lawyers.
Penny, who served in the Marines for four years through 2021, has said he acted to protect himself and others from Neely, who shouted “I’m gonna’ kill you” and said he was “ready to die” or go to jail for life.
“He was yelling in their faces saying these threats,” Penny said in a video released by his attorneys. “I just couldn’t sit still.”
Neely’s family members and their supporters have said Neely, who struggled with mental illness and homelessness, was crying out for help and was met with violence.
“What happened to Jordan was a crime and this family shouldn’t have to stand by themselves,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at Neely’s May 19 funeral.
Neely’s death aboard an F train in Manhattan quickly became a flashpoint in the nation’s debates over racial justice and crime, with Republican politicians including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hailing Penny as a hero while Sharpton and others compared the death of Neely, who was Black, at the hands of Penny, who is white, to the 1984 subway shooting of four Black men by Bernhard Goetz, a white man dubbed the “subway vigilante” who was eventually acquitted of charges in the shooting except for carrying an unlicensed gun.
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