Jordan Neely had struggled with not being able to help his mother before she was killed in 2007 and was still grieving her death, a lawyer for his family said on MSNBC Saturday as he demanded justice.
Neely, 30, died Monday after former US Marine Daniel Penny allegedly strangled him on the New York City subway. He was unconscious when officers arrived and pronounced him dead at a hospital. No charges have been filed against Penny.
At the time of her death, Neely was homeless and mentally ill, her family said.
Donte Mills, a lawyer for Neely’s family, told Al Sharpton on «PoliticsNation» that Neely «had demons» as a result of his mother’s murder. Family members had been trying to get him help, he said.
«We all know people who are on the verge of going through something major, a catastrophe where they can’t seem to get everything back and that’s where it was,» he said. «But he had a life that he was living and that he was looking for.»
Neely testified at the trial for her mother’s murderer
Neely was 14 years old when her mother, Christine Neely, was murdered in her home. NJ.com reported that her body had been packed into a suitcase and left on Henry Hudson Parkway in New York.
Her boyfriend, Shawn Southerland, was convicted in a trial in which Neely, then 18, testified. He told the court that he tried to say goodbye to his mother before going to school on April 4, 2007, but Southerland refused to let him into the bedroom. reported NJ.com.
Mills said that Neely learned that his mother had been murdered the night before and that Southerland had dumped her body while he was at school. Southerland was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the crime.
«He had to live with the fact that he left his mother dead at home. So, that’s a lot to live with and he struggled with it. But throughout his life, he was determined to make other people happy and that’s what he did.» he did it,» Mills said.
«Part of it was entertaining. He really enjoyed Michael Jackson, he emulated him and his style,» he continued.
Several friends have talked about Neely’s love for performing on the subway and around the city.. Jackson’s impersonation of her was so beloved in her neighborhood that her neighbor, Kizzy Gonzalez, had Neely perform at her son’s birthday party.
The party was over 20 years ago, but I remembered it clearly. «Seeing Jordan act like Michael Jackson, my son really thought that this was the real Michael Jackson,» he said in a phone call Saturday.
«That’s how great he was. He was always known as a great Michael Jackson performer, he took on the whole persona,» he continued. «He would spend little change from him to buy outfits that matched the ones Michael Jackson wore in certain songs and certain videos.»
Gonzalez’s cousin, Lance Clarke, of Brooklyn, knew Neely from the neighborhood and recalled seeing him in costume on numerous occasions.
«He used to have a complete, pristine Michael Jackson outfit and he would perform in that outfit,» she said in a phone call.
More coverage of Jordan Neely’s death
Neighbor says over the years, Neely looked ‘shattered’ and ‘tired’
Neely seemed to take a «downward spiral» over the years, Clarke said, and her beloved costumes would look tattered and torn. Eventually, Neely stopped dancing and would just «sit on the train, not perform, not ask for money.»
On several occasions, Clarke said she would tell Neely to get off the train and wait outside her apartment building while she gave her food and clothing.
«He just looked broken. He looked just tired…just a look of despair and hopelessness,» he said.
González said that the Neely he always knew was «soft-spoken» but «troublesome.» The last time she saw him was about a year ago. She said he appeared to be «distraught and like she was going through a hard time.»
«Jordan was a troubled young man,» he said. «I just know that he suffered a very traumatic life and a very traumatic childhood.»
Demands for justice and complaints grow
Some witnesses told NBC New York that Neely allegedly acted aggressively towards the passengers and threatened to harm them when he boarded the train on Monday. Penny’s lawyers described a similar scene.
«When Mr. Neely began to aggressively threaten Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others, acted to protect himself, until help arrived,» Penny’s attorneys said in a statement late Friday. «Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely and he could not have foreseen his untimely death.»
Cell phone video captured by a witness showed Penny on the ground with her arm locked around Neely’s neck. The witness, Juan Alberto Vázquez, told NBC New York that Neely was in the choke position. for about 15 minutes.
The city’s chief medical examiner’s office said he «died by ‘neck compression (strangulation)’ and the manner was a homicide.
Penny was detained Monday, questioned by police and released. She has not been charged.
The incident sparked a national debate, with people denouncing vigilantism and some politicians demanding officials do more to address homelessness, mental health and violence on subways.
Attorney Lennon Edwards told Sharpton that what happened to Neely is «an open and shut case.»
«There is no need to extend an investigation, so to speak, to determine that this man committed murder and should have been arrested on the spot,» he said.
Neither González nor her cousin have fully processed Neely’s death. Clarke said she hasn’t seen the video because she’s not «watching that kid get killed.»
«Yes, someone on the train yelling is an uncomfortable feeling. But just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous situation,» he said. «Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it gives you the right to take someone’s life.»
Gonzalez said she wants to see Penny arrested and charged. “The justice system has to do what it’s supposed to do,” he said. «There are repercussions.»