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Daniel Penny pleads not guilty after being indicted in NYC subway chokehold death

<i>Shannon Stapleton/Reuters</i><br/>Daniel Penny
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Daniel Penny

By Mark Morales, CNN

(CNN) — Daniel Penny, a Marine veteran charged in the death of a homeless Black man he put in a chokehold on the New York City subway, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide during a court appearance.

Penny, who is White, only spoke to say “not guilty” when asked for his plea at the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes. The 24-year-old was indicted by a grand jury this month in the May 1 death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely.

He is due back in court on October 25. Penny surrendered to police in May and has been out on a $100,000 bond. The bail conditions were not changed during Wednesday’s hearing.

Penny confronted Neely on a subway train after Neely began shouting at passengers that he was hungry and thirsty and didn’t care whether he died. Penny forced Neely to the train floor and put him in a chokehold until he stopped breathing. A medical examiner ruled Neely’s death a homicide.

The incident, partially captured on video posted online, sparked demonstrations calling for justice in the case.

Neely was on a New York City Department of Homeless Services list of the city’s homeless with acute needs because people on the list tend to disappear, a source told CNN.

“All of the evidence that we’ve seen so far, all of the evidence that we expect to see, shows that Danny acted reasonably, under very difficult circumstances in a confined environment that none of us would want to find ourselves in,” Penny’s attorney, Thomas Kenniff, said after the hearing. He added he believes his client acted within the law, “however unfortunate the consequences.”

The “right and duty to defend one another” will also be on trial in the case, said Steven Raiser, another lawyer for Penny. Penny’s legal team plans to defend “every New Yorker’s right and duty to defend each other when faced with grave harm.”

Attorneys for Neely’s family championed the indictment: “When justice happens … don’t be shocked,” they said during a news conference after the hearing.

“Daniel Penny killed a man. He took a life,” attorney Donte Mills said outside of court.

Attorney Lennon Edwards continued, “Even a legal defense fund, even interviews that took place weeks before this happened, can’t make justice look the other way – so please keep watching.”

CNN previously reported a legal defense fund set up for Penny has garnered more than $2.9 million in donations.

In May, Penny told the New York Post he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life.”

Penny told the newspaper he would take action in a similar situation again, “if there was a threat and danger in the present.” Penny said he is not a White supremacist and race was not a factor.

Penny told police Neely was acting ‘irate’

According to court records filed Wednesday, Penny told police Neely acted “irate,” prompting him to use a chokehold.

The records show, for the first time, what Penny told New York Police Department officers moments after the known street performer’s death.

“I just put him out. I just put him in a chokehold,” Penny said, later alleging that Neely had thrown his jacket and warned passengers he was ready to go to prison, according to court records.

“I just came up behind him and put him in a chokehold,” Penny said, and alleged Neely was “threatening everybody.”

The statements are part of a trove of evidence prosecutors expect to use in court, and include 911 audio, five cell phone videos from three witnesses, Metropolitan Transportation Authority video surveillance, body camera footage, police radio runs, Metrocard swipe information and even the MTA rail report, according to court records.

To another investigator, Penny said Neely was “very aggressive” and “going crazy” shortly before he placed him in the hold.

“He was pacing back and forth on the car,” Penny said in another statement, according to court records. “I came from behind and put him in a chokehold. People in the subway were afraid for their safety.”

Neely family attorneys told CNN Wednesday the grieving family feels justice would be Penny’s conviction.

“Daniel Penny killed Jordan Neely and has to be held responsible for it,” attorney Lennon Edwards said. “He should be behind bars.”

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Laura Ly and Tanika Gray contributed to this report.

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