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To the editor:
Without judging the specific merits of the case against Daniel Penny for the death of Jordan Neely, I don’t believe it’s possible to get 12 jurors to agree to convict Penny of second-degree manslaughter — beyond a reasonable doubt. If Penny goes free, the immediate issue is whether we will have demonstrations or more serious public action, including riots.
New York’s penal code says an individual is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree if a person recklessly causes the death of another. The prosecutor has to prove that Penny consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result (death of Neely) would occur.
Part of Penny’s defense will be the abject failure of New York City to make the subways safer for riders and take action to help the homeless and mentally disabled.
Adding transit cops is a good first step, but a comprehensive and effective plan is nowhere in sight. Notwithstanding the facts of the Neely case, Penny and others in that subway car were targets of the hostile and threatening statements by Neely.
Daniel Penny is not a trained police or peace officer, or a psychologist, so he will have to be given the chance to explain why and whether he considered Neely’s threats to be an imminent danger to the passengers in the subway car. One thing is almost certain in this case: Daniel Penny will take the stand and testify in his own defense.
The video showed Penny continuing to choke Neely for 50 seconds after Neely stopped moving. This is obviously not comparable to the choking by kneeling on the neck of George Floyd — for 9 minutes — by armed and trained police officers. It’s noteworthy that two other passengers helped restrain Jordan Neely during the chokehold by Penny.
Juan Alberto Vazquez, the journalist who recorded the video, stated that he heard Jordan Neely say, “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison,” and “I’m ready to die,” before Penny approached Neely.
Hopefully this case will be conducted to find the truth and get justice for all involved, and not on political pressure and fear of public reaction.
Michael J. Gorman
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