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Daniel Penny, the U.S. Marine veteran who is facing criminal charges after he put a homeless man, Jordan Neely, in a fatal chokehold in New York City at the start of the month, has decided to speak publicly about the incident.
In an interview with the New York Post, the 24-year-old Penny said the deadly altercation that took place on a subway train in NYC “had nothing to do with race.”
Neely, 30, is black. He had a long history of mental illness and more than 40 prior arrests ranging from disorderly conduct to assault, and an active warrant out for his arrest from a felony assault.
In responses to questions from the paper, Penny said, “I judge a person based on their character. I’m not a white supremacist.”
“Everybody who’s ever met me can tell you, I love all people, I love all cultures,” he said in the interview, published on Saturday.
When asked by the paper what he would say to the family of Neely, whose funeral was Friday, Penny said: “I’m deeply saddened by the loss of life.”
“It’s tragic what happened to him,” he added. “Hopefully, we can change the system that’s so desperately failed us.”
Second-Degree Manslaughter Charge
Penny was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 12, on charges of second-degree manslaughter.
The city medical examiner ruled the death of Neely a homicide due to “compression of neck (chokehold).”
Penny had pulled Neely to the floor and pinned him with a hold he learned during combat training, according to video of the incident.
Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist who recorded the clip, previously told the New York Post that Neely had been threatening and screaming at other passengers “in an aggressive manner,” while also complaining of hunger and thirst.
At one point, Neely started to scream that he was “fed up” and doesn’t care anymore whether he would go to jail for life.
Penny then approached Neely to restrain him. In the video, two other riders are also seen restraining Neely’s arms as Penny holds him in a headlock. After they let go of the him, Neely is seen lying motionless on the floor.
According to the Post, Penny said he can’t elaborate into the details of the confrontation due to pending court proceedings, but said that it wasn’t like “anything I’d experienced before.”
Lawyers Argue Self-Defense
Neely family attorney Lennon Edwards had told reporters on May 12: “Daniel Penny chose, intentionally chose, a technique to use that is designed to cut off air—that’s what he chose—and he chose to continue to hold that chokehold minute after minute, second after second, until there was no life left in Jordan Neely.”
But Penny’s lawyers have said he was acting in self-defense. His attorney, Thomas Kenniff, previously told the Post that he’s “confident” that Penny “will be absolved of any wrong doing.”
Kenniff and another lawyer, Steven Raiser, had issued a statement on May 5, saying that Neely had been “aggressively threatening” their client, and that Penny and others “acted to protect themselves, until help arrived.”
“Daniel [Penny] never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death,” the lawyers said.
A crowdfunding campaign launched by Kenniff and Raiser to pay for Penny’s legal fees has accumulated over $2.7 million as of the time of reporting.
“Any proceeds collected which exceed those necessary to cover Mr. Penny’s legal defense will be donated to a mental health advocacy program in New York City,” the lawyers said.
If convicted of manslaughter in the second degree, Penny could face as much as 15 years in prison. He is due back in court for another hearing on July 17.
Tom Ozimek and Lorenz Duchamps contributed to this report.
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