District Attorney Larry Krasner on Friday filed a motion to drop murder charges against the Black bicycle courier accused of fatally stabbing a white Center City developer.
He has asked the court to keep the other charges against Michael White — voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon — and add charges of evidence tampering and obstruction of justice.
Krasner believes a jury is more likely to convict White on a homicide charge if the charge is voluntary manslaughter because self-defense, which White has claimed, is a defense against a third-degree murder charge but a proof of guilt for a voluntary manslaughter charge, he wrote in his motion.
The DA also believes the chances of a conviction will be increased “by the prosecution’s pursuit of the most solidly provable charge” rather than one “the jury may perceive as a stretch,” the motion says.
Krasner continues in his motion: “Trust in the prosecution’s fairness is crucial to achieving individual justice for the victim, survivors, and all other Philadelphians in this matter. Needless distrust creates the risk that the victim, the survivors, and the defendant will be viewed by the jury as symbols of inequities in society rather than as the individuals they are, who deserve a dispassionate and rational decision based on the facts and the law.”
White’s trial is scheduled to begin on Monday.
Jury selection is expected to start at 9 a.m. before Court of Common Pleas Judge Glenn B. Bronson in Room 305 of the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. Opening arguments from the attorneys are scheduled to follow later in the week.
White, 22, has remained out on bail since shortly after he allegedly stabbed Sean Schellenger, 37, during a scuffle in an alleyway in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood in July 2018.
The DA’s office originally charged White with first-degree murder and denied him bail, causing outcry from local Black leaders.
The DA’s office later downgraded the charge to third-degree murder, which drew the ire of the Schellenger family, who called for reinstating the higher charge. Krasner’s motion says he sought to downgrade the charge “after extensive early investigation, a careful review of video from the incident, a lengthy proffer with Mr. White, and communications with the family of Mr. Schellenger.”
Krasner’s motion says he is seeking to eliminate the murder charges altogether based on new information his office has received since White’s preliminary hearing and arraignment.
Background of the case
On the evening of July 12, 2018, Schellenger was traveling with Uri Jacobson, a Philadelphia entrepreneur, and Norris Jordan, a restaurateur, in a Mercedes Benz in Center City, according to witness testimony.
The trio had allegedly left Rouge at 18th and Walnut streets and were traveling on Chancellor Street toward 17th Street around 11 p.m. when a traffic jam stopped them at 17th Street.
Schellenger allegedly got out of the vehicle at the intersection to speak with the driver who was parked and causing the traffic jam.
White, who was working as a food courier, then rode up on a bicycle. White was not involved in the traffic issue, but White allegedly interjected himself into the situation, leading to an argument and fight with Schellenger.
As Schellenger and White exchanged words, Schellenger reportedly approached White as White backed up into Chancellor Street. White has said Schellenger used racist language during their confrontation. A spokesman for the White family previously said Schellenger told White “I’ll beat the Black off you” moments before the fatal stabbing.
White allegedly pulled out a knife and signaled for Schellenger to stop as the pair were only feet apart. Schellegner allegedly charged White. As the altercation continued, Schellenger allegedly grabbed White by the waist in a tackling motion.
White then allegedly raised the knife and stabbed Schellenger once in the back.
Schellenger was transported to a hospital, where he died. White and Jacobson both fled the scene before police arrived.
Schellenger was intoxicated at the time of his death. He had cocaine in his system and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.199 (more than twice the legal driving limit of 0.08).
White surrendered himself to police at True Gospel Tabernacle Family Church in South Philadelphia a day later.
While out on bail, White has been restricted to house arrest and required to wear a monitoring device, but has worked at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Germantown.
In August, Schellenger’s family accused White of attempting to contact them on social media. White is under a court order not to communicate with the Schellenger family.
White’s attorneys said Schellenger’s mother, Linda, and brother, Justin, have attempting to follow White on social media and written comments on White’s Instagram posts.
Staff writer John N. Mitchell and City Editor Christina Kristofic contributed to this report.