There are numerous rumors being circulated and a lot of misinformation being spread about the Michael White case. As a public service to The Philadelphia Tribune readers, I am now providing irrefutable facts and applicable law in the following ten points:
1. On July 12 at around 10:50 pm near 17th and Chancellor streets in the Rittenhouse Square area during a traffic jam, three white men, including 37-year-old Sean Schellenger and two other men, exited a vehicle. Shortly thereafter, they encountered a 20-year-old Black man named Michael J. White who was on a bicycle working at that time as a food deliveryman. An argument amongst the four ensued. It ended with Schelllenger being fatally stabbed, White fleeing (but later voluntarily surrendering), and one of the two remaining white men mysteriously leaving the scene before police arrived.
2. White has absolutely no criminal convictions.
3. Schellenger has three arrests including two involving physical confrontations with police and a disorderly conduct arrest for which he was convicted.
4. White, a poet, was a sociology/anthropology major at Morgan State University, which is a prestigious HBCU in Baltimore.
5. A witness (who’s either a contemporaneous eye-witness or a subsequent ear-witness or possibly both) stated that Schellenger — who had been a college and high school football star — initiated the physical confrontation with White by “tackling” him. That same witness said that Schellenger and his two friends were “heavily intoxicated,” that Schellenger made a racial remark, and that Schellenger then “spit in... [White’s] face” immediately before “tackling” him. Another eyewitness described Schellenger as “aggressive” during the confrontation.
6. White is represented by a major criminal defense law firm that has more investigative and forensic resources for murder cases than any law firm in the entire Commonwealth. That law firm also has the most experienced homicide litigators of any law firm in the entire Commonwealth.
7. That law firm is called the Defender Association of Philadelphia. And I’m sure most of you are shocked to read that because you’ve heard public defenders are not real lawyers. And the reason you’ve heard that is because people believe you get what you pay for and since defendants pay no money to public defenders then they get no defense from public defenders. Nothing could be further from the truth — especially in regard to the Defender Association’s handling of murder cases. First of all, real law school grads who pass real bar exams have to get through real interviews to be hired at the Defender Association. After that, they have to get through a rigorous probationary period working in court at hearings and trials as mentees to experienced Defender Association litigating mentors. If — and only if — they excel during that period, they finally become litigators themselves.
8. That law firm, which has more than 200 attorneys and represents 70 percent of the adults and juveniles who are arrested in the city, is headed by Keir Bradford-Grey, Esquire who is not only a strong Black woman but also is a skilled pit bull trial lawyer and a remarkably innovative administrator. Prior to being appointed as Philly’s Chief Defender, she was Montgomery County’s Chief Defender and before that a federal public defender in the state of Delaware. By the way, thanks to Bradford-Grey, that Delaware office became number one in acquittals among all federal defender offices throughout the country.
9. The trial attorney handpicked by Bradford-Grey to represent White is Dan Stevenson, Esquire — Chief of the Homicide/Special Defense Unit. I know Dan personally. I’ve worked with him on high profile murder cases, including a recent death penalty case in which we saved the lives of our respective clients, two young Black men. And I can assure the Black community that White is in excellent hands because Stevenson is representing him. When the preeminent Charles Hamilton Houston, who was the brains behind the legal strategy in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, said, “A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society,” he was talking about the type of social engineer that Stevenson is. What impressed me most about Stevenson when I had the pleasuring of working with — and often relying upon — him was not just his experience and intellect because I had already heard about that. Instead, it was also his “wokeness” in that he understands that, although the law is important, justice is even more important. That’s precisely why he approaches the law not only as a lawyer but as a social justice warrior as well as a father and uncle and brother to each of the hundreds of murder clients he’s represented throughout his illustrious 37-year career. Even though he was hesitant to speak with anyone from the media about this case due to attorney-client confidentiality, he agreed to speak exclusively with The Philadelphia Tribune when I told him that many in the Black community were worried that White didn’t have a “real lawyer.” While making it clear to me that he would speak cautiously in order to avoid breaching any ethical obligations during his first public statement, here’s what he said: “Michael White was making a delivery on his bicycle for UberEats when he encountered some men exiting a Mercedes-Benz and arguing with the driver of a Ford Taurus who they thought was blocking their way. Then some words were exchanged with Michael and one of the three, a man significantly larger than Michael, attacked him and he was compelled to defend himself. Michael is a soft-spoken young man. He was just going about his business when he was set upon. He certainly didn’t begin work that night intending to harm anyone.”
10. The next court date is Aug. 1 at 9 a.m. in courtroom 306 of the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center at 1301 Filbert Street. A preliminary hearing is scheduled on that date, the only purpose of which is for a judge to determine if there’s “any” evidence that a crime was committed and if there’s “any” evidence that White committed it. The good news for White is that he has a perfect self-defense (legally known as “justification” defense) argument. The bad news for him is that such an argument cannot legally be made at a preliminary hearing, only much later at a trial. However, a defense attorney’s goal at a preliminary hearing involving the type of circumstances that exist in this kind of case is not to get a dismissal but to get a reduction. In other words, the attorney will attempt to show the judge that the criminal allegations, even if accepted as true, do not rise to the level of first degree murder, which requires an “intentional” criminal homicide (which, in turn, means “willful, deliberate, and premeditated) or second degree murder, which requires a felony, for example robbery, as part of the criminal homicide. The attorney, for preliminary hearing purposes only, will argue that the allegations amount to nothing more than third degree murder, which is an intent to merely hurt but death inadvertently results or voluntary manslaughter, which is an unreasonable belief in the need for deadly self-defense or is a killing resulting from “sudden and intense passion.” I must be clear here: An attorney in such a case will not concede at a preliminary hearing that his/her client committed any crime whatsoever. That attorney will simply raise the only argument he/she can procedurally raise at a preliminary hearing, i.e., that this is nothing more than a third degree murder case or, even better, a voluntary manslaughter case because those charges allow for bail. First and second degree murder do not allow for bail. And once White is out of jail on bail, he can be in a much better position to help Stevenson prepare a zealous trial defense and can also be with his loving family. But mostly, he can be treated by the legal system like he’s presumed innocent. After all, he is.