Michael White

Defendant Michael White left the courtroom on Tuesday, a day before jurors started deliberations in his voluntary manslaughter trial. — Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

The Black bicycle courier on trial for the fatal stabbing of a white real estate developer in Rittenhouse Square in July 2018 took the stand in his own defense on Tuesday.

Michael White, 22, testified that Sean Schellenger, 37, was "gritting his teeth, spit coming out of his mouth and rolling up his sleeves" as he approached White near the intersection of 17th and Chancellor streets on July 12, 2018.

White said Schellenger told him, "I'm going to beat the Black off of you." White testified that he drew a knife from his backpack, held it at eye level, and then warned Schellenger to “back the f--k up,” hoping it would deter Schellenger.

Seconds later, Schellenger wrapped his arms around White's waist and hoisted him in the air. White then brought the knife down in Schellenger's back, killing him.

“I wasn’t trying to kill nobody," White said. "I was defending myself. I was thinking I could die.”

Tuesday marked the first time White has spoken publicly since the stabbing.

White's story was almost identical to the stories told by witnesses put on by the prosecution. However, the prosecution's witnesses, two of whom were Schellenger's friends, said they could not hear the words White and Schellenger exchanged.

White said the confrontation began when a gold Ford Taurus, carrying two African-American men making a delivery, stopped on 17th Street, blocking the Mercedes that Schellenger was riding in from continuing down the street.

William Norris Jordan, the driver of the Mercedes that Schellenger was in, beeped his horn and shouted through his open car window, "move, you stupid n-----," White said.

"That made me uncomfortable," White said.

White said he was able to hear what Jordan said because he was only about 2 feet from the vehicle. He said he had headphones on, but one ear was not covered.

Schellenger then got out of the Mercedes and approached the driver's side of the Taurus, White said.

White said he told Schellenger, "This is really no reason to act like a tough guy."

"I said that in hopes that he would stop because he looked like he was really ready to hurt someone," White testified.

Schellenger then turned on White, threatened him, charged him, and the younger, smaller man stabbed Schellenger in self-defense. "I was trying to get him off me," White said.

After Schellenger went down, White fled the scene, went to his aunt's house in West Philadelphia, and threw the knife on a rooftop.

A toxicology report later revealed Schellenger, who had been dining in a nearby restaurant, was legally drunk and had used cocaine. 

Under cross examination, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Voci argued that White made the decision to insert himself in a disagreement between the two parties in the cars.

Voci attacked White’s decision to take public transportation back to his aunt’s house in West Philadelphia while wearing clothes stained in Schellenger’s blood. He also assailed White’s decision to throw the knife on a rooftop. Investigators retrieved the knife days later.

“He made a decision to leave a crime scene where a man he stabbed was dying,” Voci said. “He made a decision to throw the knife on the roof.”

The defense wrapped up its case Tuesday. Closing arguments are scheduled to be heard on Wednesday. Jurors could begin deliberating by the afternoon.

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