The 22-year-old accused of fatally stabbing a Center City developer can remain free on bail following questions over social media communications between him and the victim’s family.
Michael White said during a bail hearing on Friday that “I don’t know” how an Instagram account linked to him had requested to follow a brother of Sean Schellenger, whom White is accused of murdering last year.
That request to follow Justin Schellenger violated the condition of his bail to refrain from contacting witnesses or the Schellenger family, argued Anthony Voci Jr., chief of the homicide unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, during a bail hearing at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice on Friday.
Voci called on Common Pleas Judge Glenn B. Bronson to yank White’s bail and send White to jail in the lead up to his murder trial scheduled to begin in October.
“He knows how the [social media] system operates,” Voci said at the hearing, calling the attempted contact with Justin Schellenger this week “incredibly coincidental.”
Jonathan Strange, one of White’s attorneys with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said White had “no recollection” of attempting to follow Justin Schellenger.
Under questioning from Strange, White, who was wearing a gray suit and light blue tie and shirt, said, “I had no intention to follow or contact Mr. [Justin] Schellenger.”
Bronson, who initially called any attempt by a defendant to communicate with a victim’s family “incomprehensible,” decided to not revoke White’s bail.
But Bronson, who admitted he was not well versed in the social media platform and did not have an account, said he will have a zero-tolerance policy going forward.
The judge said he would strip White’s bail over any social media contact with the Schellenger family and hold him in contempt of court. Bronson also suggested White refrain from using Instagram.
“I’m going to hold you accountable if this happens again,” Bronson said.
Voci presented screenshots at the hearing from Justin Schellenger’s Instagram account, which is private, that showed one account linked to White had requested to follow him this week.
White claimed, without evidence, that Justin Schellenger had attempted to follow him on Instagram last weekend. White said he denied the request.
While addressing Bronson, Strange said White must have inadvertently sent the request. Justin Schellenger and Linda Schellenger, Sean Schellenger’s mother, had come into White’s social media orbit because the family and a friend have attempted to follow him and have written on his Instagram account in the past.
Voci said there was no court order restricting the Schellenger family from following White on social media or posting on White’s accounts.
While out on bail, White has been restricted to house arrest and required to wear a monitoring device. But he has been working at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Germantown.
White allegedly murdered Sean Schellenger during an altercation on July 12, 2018, at the intersection of Chancellor Street at 17th Street near Rittenhouse Square.
Sean Schellenger was one of three men in a car stuck in traffic at the intersection. As the three men got out, White, who was working as a bicycle food courier, allegedly approached the intersection, too.
An argument ensued between White and Schellenger and the two men reportedly began to fight. White allegedly pulled a knife from his backpack and stabbed Schellenger once in the back. Both White and one of the passengers in the car Sean Schellenger had been in fled.
An autopsy revealed Sean Schellenger had alcohol and cocaine in his system during the time of murder.
White has claimed self-defense.
White, who is Black, also has claimed that Sean Schellenger, who is white, used racially charged language.
District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Office downgraded White’s charges last year to third-degree murder and a related charge, which permitted him to be freed on bail. The Schellenger family has criticized Krasner for reducing the charges.
The murder trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 7.