When a jury convenes later this week to decide the fate of an African-American bicycle courier accused of stabbing to death a white real estate developer, almost half of its members will be Black.
The prosecution and defense teams on Monday selected the jury that will hear the case against 22-year-old Michael White, who is Black. He is accused of stabbing 37-year-old Sean Schellenger during a scuffle in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood in July 2018.
Jury selection ended almost seven hours after a long day in court began with Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson dismissing a third-degree murder charge against White and approving the addition of a charge of evidence tampering. Bronson amended the charges at the request of District Attorney Larry Krasner, who argued that prosecutors were more likely to get a conviction on the manslaughter charge than the murder charge.
The DA requested the addition of the evidence tampering charge based on allegations that White threw away the knife he used to stab Schellenger, and locked and hid his cellphone in an attempt to keep information from authorities. Investigators said they unlocked White’s phone and found messages saying that he wanted to stab people.
Upon hearing Bronson’s ruling, Linda Schellenger, Sean Schellenger’s mother, burst into tears and left the courtroom along with family and supporters. Bronson denied a request by the Schellenger family attorney to be heard on the issue, saying that the decision lies with the District Attorney.
This marks the second time the DA’s office has reduced the charges in the case.
Krasner’s office originally charged White with first-degree murder, causing an outcry from the Black community.
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.”
The confrontation between White and Schellenger began late in the evening on July 12, 2018.
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.
Opening arguments in the case are scheduled to begin on Thursday.
Of the 12 jurors selected to hear the case, five are Black — two men and three women.