By Luc Cohen and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -The former U.S. Marine sergeant accused of fatally strangling Jordan Neely, a homeless man, in a chokehold in a New York subway car last month pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in court on Wednesday.
Daniel Penny, 24, was captured in videos recorded by bystanders putting Neely in a chokehold from behind for several minutes on May 1 while they rode on a subway train in Manhattan.
The killing drew national attention and sparked protests in May by those angered that police did not immediately arrest Penny, who is white, following the death of Neely, a Black man. Penny was arrested more than a week later.
Penny first appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 12, where he was released on a $100,000 bond and ordered to surrender his passport.
After that hearing, a grand jury voted to indict Penny on June 14 on charges of manslaughter in the second degree, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison on conviction, and criminally negligent homicide, a felony with a maximum sentence of five years.
The indictment was unsealed at Wednesday’s arraignment, which lasted a few minutes. Penny, dressed in a blue suit and red tie, pleaded not guilty, and was told to return to court on Oct. 25 for a pretrial hearing.
In the minutes before he was killed, Neely, a 30-year-old former Michael Jackson impersonator who struggled with mental illness, had been shouting about how hungry he was and that he was willing to return to jail or die, according to passengers in the subway car.
Penny has said he acted to defend himself and other passengers, and did not intend to kill Neely, and he has been hailed as a hero by prominent Republican politicians. Protesters have decried Penny as a vigilante and described Neely’s death as a lynching.
Penny was questioned by police on the day of Neely’s death but would not be arrested and make an initial court appearance until 11 days later.
Witnesses have said Neely did not physically threaten or attack anyone before Penny grabbed him. His killing renewed debate about gaps in the city’s systems for homeless and mentally ill New Yorkers.
Neely had been in and out of the city’s homeless shelters in recent years, and his family say his mental health worsened dramatically after his mother was murdered when he was a teenager. He had been arrested many times, most recently for punching a 67-year-old woman in 2021, breaking bones in her face.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)
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