After two days of testimony from nearly half a dozen witnesses, it was still unclear on Friday how a then-21-year-old Black bicycle courier and a 37-year-old white real estate developer — who did not know each other — got into a fight last year that ended with the bicycle courier fatally stabbing the developer.
One witness said the confrontation happened so quickly it was a “blur.”
Bicycle courier Michael White, now 22, faces a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing. How the fight started and the words he exchanged with developer Sean Schellenger could affect how the jury rules in the high-profile case.
The incident happened on the evening of July 12, 2018, when Schellenger and two friends were traveling in the Rittenhouse Square. They got stuck in traffic near the intersection of 17th and Chancellor streets and Schellenger got out of the vehicle.
Witnesses testified that White rode up on his bicycle and began arguing with Schellenger.
William Norris Jordan, the owner of the car in which Schellenger was a passenger, testified that he got out of the vehicle and walked toward Schellenger and White, who were standing behind the vehicle. Jordan said the two men were arguing, but he could not make out what they were arguing about.
When defense attorney Jonathan Strange asked Jordan if Schellenger ever called White the “N-word, or used any other racial slur,” Jordan, who who teared up on the stand, replied, “unequivocally, my hand on the Bible, no.”
Jordan said he saw White back away and then draw a knife from his backpack. He said Schellenger moved forward as White backed away with the knife raised, locked his arms around White, lifted him up and slammed him to ground.
Jordan’s description of events matches what is seen in cellphone footage of the incident shown multiple times inside the courtroom.
White is seen in the video stabbing Schellenger in the back before the two hit the ground. Schellenger did not get up; White got up and fled.
Uri Jacobson, another passenger in Jordan’s vehicle and a friend of Schellenger’s, said he had gotten out of the car to defuse a potential argument between Jordan — who had blown his horn at a car holding up traffic on Chancellor Street — and the two Black men inside of it.
As he returned back to Jordan’s car, Jacobson said, he saw White and Schellenger facing each other. He testified that they looked like “two guys ready to challenge each other.”
Strange argued that Jacobson’s description of the incident differed from Jordan’s, who said the knife-wielding White was backing away.
“It happened so fast, inside of 15-20 seconds,” Jacobson said.
Matthew Schuyler, a bystander who estimated that he was about 20 feet from the two men, backed up Jacobson in his testimony; he said the fight happened so fast it was a “blur.”
Prosecutors Anthony Voci and Sherrell Dandy, who have argued that it was unnecessary for White to confront Schellenger, rested their case on Friday.
White’s team of Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey and Strange have argued that Schellenger was overly aggressive and White was simply defending himself from the older man.
To bolster their argument that Schellenger by nature was overly aggressive, the defense called bouncer Phillip Birchfield to testify about a 2008 incident involving Schellenger at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar in Destin, Florida.
Birchfield testified that he and two other bouncers were required to detain Schellenger, who had become unruly. Birchfield said Schellenger was “throwing punches” at them and bit him on the elbow “for about 20 seconds” during the incident.
Voci scoffed at the 11-year-old testimony.
“What they are trying to do is establish Sean as a violent racist,” Voici said. “it’s just not true.”
White is expected to take the stand as early as Tuesday to tell his version of events. His attorneys have said he will testify that Schellenger said he would “beat the Black off” White and White was scared for his life.
There is no court on Monday due to the Columbus Day holiday.