Following three days of testimony in the trial of the Black bicycle courier who fatally stabbed a white real estate developer in the Rittenhouse Square area last year, prosecutor Sherrell Dandy took a seat on the witness stand and delivered a cryptic message.
“The one witness you have not heard from is Sean Schellenger,” Dandy said. “And you have not heard from him because he is gone from this world forever.”
And Schellenger is dead because 22-year-old Michael White inserted himself into a traffic dispute involving Schellenger, the two white people he was in a car with, and two Black delivery men in a car that was blocking their path near the intersection of 17th and Chancellor streets on July 12, 2018, Dandy said.
Instead of stopping his bicycle at the corner and telling Schellenger that he didn’t have to be a “tough guy,” White easily could have left the scene, Dandy said.
The prosecutor argued that White’s admonition to Schellenger escalated the incident.
“When you follow the facts and follow the law,” Dandy said to the jury, “you will see that the defendant, Michael White, stands before you for making the choice to take a man’s life, and he needs to be held accountable.”
White had testified on Tuesday that he thought Schellenger looked like he was “really ready to hurt someone” and he was trying to defuse the situation.
White said he feared for his life when Schellenger turned on him.
In a closing statement that lasted nearly 50 minutes, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey pointed out that Schellenger, a 37-year-old former college football player, had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he attacked White, who was then 16 years younger and 50 pounds lighter.
White was reacting in a split second to a man who said he intended to “beat the Black off” him, Bradford-Grey said.
Schellenger had wrapped his arms around White, lifted him up and threw him down when White brought a hunting knife with a 7-inch blade down into the larger man’s back.
The prosecution said the knife passed through Schellenger’s back into his aorta because of the force White used to stab him, while the defense countered that White did not intend to kill Schellenger and the knife was forced deeper into his body as they tumbled.
After Schellenger was down, White removed the knife and fled to an aunt’s house in West Philadelphia, where he threw his bloody T-shirt in the trash and hurled the knife onto a rooftop.
White faces charges of voluntary manslaughter, possession of an instrument of crime and evidence tampering. The manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
White originally was charged with first-degree murder, which caused an outcry in the Black community.
District Attorney Larry Krasner later downgraded the charge to third-degree murder.
About two weeks ago, Krasner filed an 11th hour petition to dismiss the third-degree murder charge and replace it with a voluntary manslaughter charge. He said the prosecution was more likely to get a conviction on the voluntary manslaughter charge.
The jury began deliberating White’s fate shortly after lunchtime Wednesday and left for the day without reaching a verdict. Deliberations are expected to resume on Thursday.
The jury must determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether White was looking for a fight or acted in self defense.