Jordan Neely suffered from “demons” after his mother was murdered in 2007, a lawyer for his family says.
Neely was just 14 when his mother Christine Neely was strangled, stuffed in a suitcase and left on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York by her former partner.
Family members say Jordan Neely fell into a deep depression and never fully recovered from the tragedy, and was homeless at the time of his death.
Attorney Donte Mills told Al Sharpton on MSNBC's PoliticsNation that Neely had been living with his mother and her boyfriend Shawn Southerland at the time of her killing.
He learned his mother had died and tried to say goodbye to her before leaving for school, but was blocked from entering her bedroom by Southerland.
“He had to live with the fact that he left his mother dead in their home,” Mr Mills told MSNBC.
“So, that’s a lot to live with and he had troubles with that.”
Neely testified at the murder trial at the age of 18, helping to secure a murder conviction and 30 year prison sentence for Southerland.
Mr Mills said that Neely had become an accomplished street performer and Michael Jackson impersonator as a way of dealing with the trauma.
“He was determined to make other people happy and that’s what he did,” the attorney told MSNBC.
"A part of that was entertaining. He really enjoyed Michael Jackson, he emulated him and his style," he added.
Mr Mills said that family members had been trying to get help for Neely at the time of his death.
“We all know people who are on the brink of going through something major, a catastrophe where they just can’t seem to get everything back together and that’s where he was,” he told MSNBC.
“But he had a life that he was living and was reaching for.”
Manhattan prosecutors are investigating Neely’s death after the city’s medical examiner determined he died from the compression against his neck. His death was ruled a homicide, and no arrests have been made. The medical examiner’s ruling does not determine criminal culpability, and any charges would be pursued by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Neely’s death has set off waves of protests across New York as demonstrators call for authorities to charge Mr Penny.